Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine
Winter 2013 Return to Outlook Main page »

Cancer SIG Update
The Need for International Collaborative Psycho-Oncology Research

By Gozde Ozakinci, PhD; and Michael Diefenbach, PhD, Cancer SIG Chair

Undoubtedly, high quality collaborative research is the future of cancer control efforts. Basic science, medical and technological advances in the detection and treatment of cancer promise success in cancer control. Yet, ubiquitous challenges remain when such advances are translated to individuals or populations. For example, whole genome sequencing allows individuals to obtain information about genomic abnormalities that might confer an elevated disease risk. However, protocols to communicate risks and benefits of testing - especially for vulnerable populations and in the absence of effective cures for some disease risks - still need to be developed. Similarly, issues such as smoking cessation, adherence to medications, treatment decision making, coping with adverse effects, and transition into survivorship after diagnosis and treatment present persistent problems that affect millions of people. It is time to address these challenges through high quality multi-national collaborative research.

Take the example of the UK and the US. Despite different health care systems, an increasing number of people live with and beyond a cancer diagnosis. This fortunate state of affairs brings a host of problems for individuals and their families ranging from the initial shock of the cancer diagnosis and the challenges of treatment decisions and future prevention efforts, to living with the uncertainty and the fear of cancer returning. To answer these challenges, we as psycho-oncology researchers need to address unmet needs that are part of the survivorship transition and design rigorous studies to address, evaluate, and disseminate evidence-based interventions to alleviate these needs.

In the UK, the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative has been recently formed through a partnership of governmental services and a leading cancer charity. The initiative aims to extend the focus of cancer from an acute illness to recovery and wellbeing. A similar approach has been taken by the American Cancer Society.

With the focus changing from the treatment period towards rehabilitation and wellbeing after cancer treatment, prevention efforts (cancer and other diseases) have also been an emphasis for cancer survivors and their family members. Researchers have found that a traumatic event like a cancer diagnosis can provide a window of opportunity to help cancer patients and their family members and friends change their unhealthy habits.

It should also be noted that while most of the interventions for cancer patients are delivered by clinical psychologists working in health settings in the US, in the UK, it is also health psychologists who work with cancer patients (visit: http://www.ehps.net/ehp/issues/2011/v13iss2_June2011/13_2_Coyne.pdf). Cognitive behavioral psychotherapy techniques as well as evidence-based behavior change tools are commonplace in the UK and the US, providing a common language to collaborate on theory-guided, evidence-based and effective interventions.

Annette Stanton, PhD, and Jost Dekker, PhD, President Elect of the International Society of Behavioral Medicine, has embarked on a unique series of events, symposia and talks at three national and international meetings. The series will be kicked off with the Cancer SIG's pre-conference day at SBM 2013 Annual Meeting, entitled, "Interventions across Cancer Care Continuum: Development, Dissemination, and the Promise of New Technology" (3/20 12-6 pm). Within this topic area, we will hear talks in three broad areas: 1) Theoretical foundations of intervention development and dissemination; 2) Community Interventions and dissemination; 3) Health information technology and cancer interventions. Confirmed speakers are in alphabetical order: David Ahern, PhD; Michael Diefenbach, PhD; Susan Eggly, PhD; Martha Hare, PhD; Paul Jacobsen, PhD; Rita Kukafka, PhD; Amelie Ramirez, PhD; Bruce Rapkin, PhD; Julia Rowland, PhD; Abdul Shaikh, PhD; Annette Stanton, PhD; and Hayley Thompson, PhD.

The series will be continued at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Psychological Association (July 31 - August 4, 2013 in Honolulu, Hawaii). The focus will be to create an exchange of ideas between behavioral medicine researchers and clinicians working with cancer patients. The final event will take place at the 13th Annual International Congress of Behavioral Medicine (August 20-23, 2014 in Groningen, The Netherlands) with collaboration of our European and Asian colleagues.

We hope you are as excited about the upcoming opportunities and challenges as we are and take the opportunity to renew old friendships and form new connections. We are looking forward to seeing you in San Francisco at the annual meeting and at the Cancer SIG's pre-conference day.