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The Quantified Self and Your Health

March 17, 2015

By Alice Peter, Director, Population Health & Prevention Unit, Cancer Care Ontario (@CancerCare_ON)

headshot Alice Peter

Alice Peter

I’ve recently become interested in a movement known as the Quantified Self, which inspires self-knowledge through self-tracking with technology. There are many digital tools that can help us track our physical activity and diet as well as monitor and measure things like air quality, sleep, mood, logic and memory.

I know that health monitoring plays an important role in maintaining wellness and preventing disease,and I’m always interested in learning more about how we can leverage new tools to improve our personal awareness and overall health. Digital tools may be a great resource to help us better understand our health habits and provide us with the information we need to have meaningful conversations with our health care providers.

Many people don’t know that as many as half of all cancers could be prevented by eliminating known risk factors. We can take action to lower our risk of developing cancer and chronic disease by not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruit, and participating in regular physical activity.

quantified self logo

Colorectal cancer is one specific cancer with many ties to lifestyle factors. As March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, this seems like the perfect time to talk about healthy habits as a prevention method. At Cancer Care Ontario, we’re encouraging people to quit smoking, consume alcohol moderately if at all, to eat well, get moving and take action against colorectal cancer today. We’re also spreading awareness about our latest innovation: My CancerIQ.

My CancerIQ is an online tool that allows you to assess and better understand your risk of developing colorectal, breast, cervical and lung cancer. It includes a series of risk assessments that estimate your risk of cancer compared to other Ontarians like you. While the tool won’t tell you whether or not you will develop cancer, it can help you focus on specific changes you can make to lower your cancer risk and live a healthier life.

We hope you’ll join us on March 25, 2015 at 9 pm ET (time zone converter) to discuss the quantified self, self-tracking and using digital tools to track your health and take action against cancer and chronic disease.

Topics for this week’s chat include:

  • T1. Do you use digital tools to track your health?
  • T2. How do you use the data you collect to make healthy choices?
  • T3. How do you share the data you collect with your doctor? If you don’t, why not?
4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike permalink
    March 20, 2015 2:13 pm

    Sounds like an algorithmic approach to health inconsistent on many levels with a personalized approach to health which is surely to become more the norm with individualized or personalized health care rather than generalized population based approaches which is the current norm.
    This article is thought provoking relating to this subject. From the article: “Guidelines as a Disservice – But for us it is not “truth” but an erosion of the patient-physician contract for an empathic trusting relationship and more often than not, a sophism.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alice permalink
      March 20, 2015 5:21 pm

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for your comment. The concerns raised in the Scientific American article suggest that guidelines may diminish the responsibility of the patient to make informed choices; however, with My CancerIQ, our intent isn’t to promote clinical guidelines, but to educate people about their cancer risk and provide them with ways to reduce it. In this way, the decisions are very much in the hands of the person completing the risk assessment. So, while My CancerIQ has an underlying algorithm, by design the tool leaves the decision to make changes up to the individual through its personalized recommendations.

      I agree with one of the author’s closing statements that “Changing medicine from a ‘telling what to do’ profession to a ‘telling the patient the information’ profession will lead us to a better system of care, better in every way.” That is the purpose of My CancerIQ.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. March 24, 2015 8:42 am

    A case study from an unpublished article of mine:

    If you are a believer in the quantified self the worst thing that can happen is to stop receiving data –when your heart stops beating for instance.

    The real-life scenario below tells the story of a Toronto man in his 50s who has completed several distance events in running and cycling and who routinely uses wearable devices to measure his performance.

    On November 3, 2013, ‘Mike’ (not his real name) was seconds from finishing a 21k half marathon when his heart stopped, and he collapsed. Fortunately, Mike received quick care from fellow runners, two St John’s Ambulance volunteers leapt to his aid, he received CPR, an anonymous doctor helped out, and a defibrillator was applied and got his heart restarted

    From ‘Mike’s blog:

    Based on the data uploaded from my Garmin, I was on track for a 1:46 – 1:47 finishing time — just about what I was expecting, based on my training. My average pace was 4:59 per km (bearing in mind that about 6 km of the course is downhill) and circa 5:03 on the flats. While my average heart rate for the run was circa 148, it stayed in the low 150’s once I was at the bottom of the hill and along the lake shore. However, at 20.25 km, it began to climb quickly:
    o 153 bpm at 20.25 km
    o 155 bpm at 20:37 km
    o 158 bpm at 20:50 km
    o 160 bpm at 20.61 km
    o 164 bpm at 20:75 km
    o 165 bpm at 20:79 km
    o 0 bpm at 20:80 km
    … according to (my watch), my heart stopped but 300 metres from the finish line and remained that way for about 5 minutes, when it started back at 112 bpm. The Garmin shows the route the ambulance took to the hospital but not my heart rate; someone must have taken off my chest strap prior to using the AED defibrillator or inside the ambulance.
    A few observations.
    1. At the very end of the race, just before my heart stopped, the data show I quickened my pace and my heart rate rose accordingly. I must have recognized how close I was to the finish line and started my sprint. However, I have absolutely no memory of seeing or knowing that I was near the finish line, so that memory never got into my long term memory or was accidentally erased. That’s weird.
    2. It appears from the heart rate data that I was 7 minutes without a pulse. That’s just scary. Where’d I go for those 7 minutes?

    I’m looking forward to analyzing the results of my next race, which I hope will be next September (if not before). In the meantime, I’m scheduled for a treadmill stress test in early January and then will start a tailored program to get back into cycling and running, if all goes well.

    ‘Mike’ is by no means a fanatic, but is a true believer in using wearable devices to track his performance – much as many thousands are using similar devices and apps to track their workout activity, weight or any number of other physiologic parameters.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. March 25, 2015 6:57 pm

    Very interesting discussion, above. Really like this terminology Quantified Self…QS technology has the potential for cracking the habits that are so invisible to us and can very well complement personalized medicine as well as population health approaches.


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