Center on Stress and Health

Cancer, and Stress and Trauma

Giese-Davis, J., C. Bliss-Isberg, et al. (2006). "The effect of peer counseling on quality of life following diagnosis of breast cancer: an observational study." Psychooncology 15(11): 1014-22.
Women with breast cancer express the greatest need for counseling at the time of diagnosis and report that the intervention they want is to be able to speak with someone who has the same cancer, but has lived through the crisis of treatment and is leading a 'normal' life. We conducted an observational study of a 6-month peer-counseling intervention testing outcomes for both newly diagnosed women (Sojourners) and peer counselors (Navigators) as a first step toward the goal of validating a peer navigator program. Significant improvement in the Sojourners was observed in trauma symptoms, emotional well-being, cancer self-efficacy, and desire for information on breast cancer resources. Navigators maintained baseline levels of the outcome variables, but increased in dissatisfaction with their interactions with their medical team and increased emotional suppression. Our findings indicate that peer navigation may halt a decline in quality of life that is commonly found in the first year following breast cancer diagnosis. In addition, Navigators were not adversely affected by their experience; however, careful training and supervision of Navigators is crucial to overall success. Randomized clinical trials are needed to demonstrate the efficacy of peer navigator programs.

Butler, L. D., C. Koopman, et al. (2003). "Psychological distress and pain significantly increase before death in metastatic breast cancer patients." Psychosom Med 65(3): 416-26.
OBJECTIVE: This study was designed to examine the course of psychological distress and pain from study entry to death in 59 women with metastatic breast cancer participating in a randomized trial of the effects of group psychotherapy on psychosocial outcomes and survival. It was hypothesized that psychological distress would increase significantly before death independent of changes in pain. METHOD: Data were collected as part of a larger study (N = 125). Analyses were based on data from a subset of women who had died and for whom we had data from at least three assessments. Mean levels of mood, trauma symptoms, depression symptoms, well-being, and pain over three time points were examined: at baseline (T1), the second-to-last assessment before death (T2), and the last assessment before death (T3). RESULTS: Results indicate that while psychological distress remained relatively constant or declined from T1 to T2, means on all measures significantly changed in the hypothesized direction from T2 to T3. Neither self-reported pain, nor the passage of time, appeared to account for these changes. Additionally, participation in group psychotherapy did not have a significant impact on this change in distress proximal to death. CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest that specialized end-stage clinical interventions are particularly needed for cancer patients as they approach death. Moreover, intervention studies for patients with deteriorating illnesses may need to take this "spike" in psychological distress and pain proximal to death into account to avoid Type II errors in evaluations of psychological outcomes.

Winzelberg, A. J., C. Classen, et al. (2003). "Evaluation of an internet support group for women with primary breast cancer." Cancer 97(5): 1164-73.
BACKGROUND: Women with breast carcinoma commonly experience psychologic distress following their diagnosis. Women who participate in breast cancer support groups have reported significant reduction in their psychologic distress and pain and improvement in the quality of their lives. Web-based breast cancer social support groups are widely used, but little is known of their effectiveness. Preliminary evidence suggests that women benefit from their participation in web-based support groups. METHODS: Seventy-two women with primary breast carcinoma were assigned randomly to a 12-week, web-based, social support group (Bosom Buddies). The group was semistructured, moderated by a health care professional, and delivered in an asynchronous newsgroup format. RESULTS: The results indicate that a web-based support group can be useful in reducing depression and cancer-related trauma, as well as perceived stress, among women with primary breast carcinoma. The effect sizes ranged from 0.38 to 0.54. Participants perceived a variety of benefits and high satisfaction from their participation in the intervention CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrated that the web-based program, Bosom Buddies, was effective in reducing participants' scores on depression, perceived stress, and cancer-related trauma measures. The effect size of the intervention was in the moderate range. Although web-based social support groups offer many advantages, this delivery mechanism presents a number of ethical issues that need to be addressed.

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