Psychosocial Intervention Limits Fear of Recurrence Among Survivors of Cancer

11/12/17

A novel, theoretically–based psychosocial intervention improves the fear of cancer recurrence among survivors 6 months post-therapy, according to a report published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (online November 2, 2017; doi:10.1200/JCO.2017.73.1257).

Fear of cancer recurrence is a serious and common issue that many survivors are faced with. The issue is often overlooked—despite it having the potential to seriously affect patients’ quality of life—and few studies have evaluated methods to improve fear of recurrence.

Phyllis N Butow, PhD, University of Sydney (Australia), and colleagues conducted a trial to evaluate the impact of ConquerFear—a theoretically- and empirically-based intervention—on fear of cancer recurrence. Researchers sampled 222 survivors of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or melanoma to undergo either ConquerFear (n = 121) or the control intervention Taking-it-Easy (n = 101). Enrollees were tasked with completing accompanying questionnaires at baseline, immediately after therapy completion, and at 3 and 6 months thereafter.

The primary endpoint of the study was the degree of change in the fear of cancer recurrence inventory questionnaire. Scores for this questionnaire ranged from 0 to 168, with higher numbers indicating the worst fear of disease recurrence.

Researchers noted that while both interventions require therapists, ConquerFear focuses on controlling worry and educating about recurrence-prevention techniques, while Taking-it-Easy focuses on helping survivors relax through muscle relaxation and meditation.

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Results of the study showed that baseline fear of recurrence inventory scores were similar (mean score in ConquerFear, 82.7; mean score in Taking-it-Easy, 85.3). However, score changes were observed at each measured time point. At 6 months, survivors in Conquer Fear had a mean fear of recurrence inventory score of 55.5, compared with 67.5 in Taking-it-Easy. These changes in scores represented a -26.9 vs -19.1-point swing, respectively (P = .0176).

Additionally, Dr Butow and colleagues reported that psychological distress and cancer-specific distress remained significantly better in the ConquerFear group at 6 months.

In their concluding remarks, authors of the study acknowledged that while ConquerFear shows efficacy in improving fear of recurrence in survivors of cancer, “the trial did not adjust for multiple comparisons, and statistically significant results could have appeared by chance because of multiple comparisons.” Further research is needed to optimize tailoring of fear of recurrence interventions, they wrote.—Zachary Bessette