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Intervention helps cancer patients’ quality of life

Monday February 18, 2013
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Therapy to ease stress, fatigue and other quality-of-life issues significantly improved patients’ sense of well-being during cancer treatment, according to a study.

Meanwhile, patients who kept to their standard routines showed a decline in quality-of-life measures, reported researchers with the Mayo Clinic.

Mayo cancer care specialists created a six-session program to address cognitive, physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being. Each session included physical therapy exercises to improve fatigue, discussions of topics such as developing coping strategies or addressing spiritual concerns, and deep breathing or guided imagery to reduce stress.

For people with cancer, fighting the disease understandably takes highest priority. But other factors — including stress, fatigue, pain and spiritual uncertainty — can severely diminish patients’ quality of life during and after treatment, said the study’s lead author, psychologist Matthew M. Clark, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic Department of Psychiatry and Psychology.

Many studies have tested strategies to improve patients’ experience, but most approaches have focused only on one quality-of-life issue at a time, and typically after cancer treatment, Clark said in a news release.

In the randomized trial, published in the Feb. 15 issue of the journal Cancer, researchers studied a group of 113 patients with advanced cancer; 63% were male, mostly in their late 50s. All were receiving radiation therapy at the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. The study also included family members caring for cancer patients, who also often experience a lower quality of life. Half the participants stayed with their usual psychosocial routine during treatment (for instance, seeing their own therapists, counselors or clergy), and the other half attended the formal, 90-minute program three days a week.

“Much of the success may be that the program is active and engaged, and patients participated in the session as part of a group,” Clark said in the news release. “They received support and encouragement to go home and practice things like physical activity, spirituality and relaxation.”

While the study showed that the intervention can improve quality of life for cancer patients, Clark noted two surprising results. First, researchers found the program did not improve quality of life for caregivers during the treatment time period.

“We were hoping the program would also help caregivers, who tend to experience significant emotional and physical fatigue,” he said. “We still have to find ways to help them.”

In addition, in a follow-up questionnaire conducted six months after treatment, the patients who took part in the program showed a lack of improvement in quality-of-life measures over time.

“The intervention is helpful at a critical time, but doesn’t have a lasting continuous enhancing effect,” Clark said. “Our hope is to develop strategies to help people maintain and then improve their quality of life throughout survivorship.”

The study abstract is available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.27776/abstract.


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