The last chemotherapy session is over and the treatment declared finished. But for many cancer patients, managing the rest of their lives becomes the next challenge.
With the number of successfully treated patients on the rise, Rutgers researcher Shawna V. Hudson, a professor at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, will lead a team developing new technology and education programs to address the needs of the estimated 13.7 million longer-term survivors living in the United States.Hudson and colleagues from the Cancer Institute, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Social Work, all at Rutgers, will create and test a web and smart phone application, as well as a health-coaching component, to help cancer survivors better manage their healthcare issues as they move beyond final treatment.
“By 2050, the growth rate for cancer survivors is expected to outpace the growth rate for new cancer cases. Such projections call for a more comprehensive approach to helping this population better understand their healthcare needs and be more proactive in managing them,” says Hudson.
A $3.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute will underwrite the initiative, called Extended Cancer Education for Longer-term Survivors (EXCELS). It is aimed at individuals who finished their treatment two or more years ago. According to the National Cancer Institute, the number of longer-term survivors who fall into this category is increasing.
Approximately 70 percent of survivors have other health issues that require a comprehensive approach to the management of their healthcare, since some of these conditions may have been affected by their cancer treatment.Despite this, studies have shown that cancer survivors do not receive preventive care and chronic disease management at recommended intervals. The new grant, which runs through August 2018, aims to address a lack of psycho-social tools to help reverse that trend.
“By using forms of technology that can be continually enhanced and updated, we can remain ahead of the curve to help survivors be fully engaged in receiving the care that will be most beneficial to them at the appropriate times,” Hudson says.
Team members will first hold focus groups with survivors and conduct in-depth interviews with care providers to determine what they feel would be useful. The intervention program they develop will undergo usability testing with a small group of survivors.
Once the survivors’ feedback is incorporated, the program will be rolled out for testing with 480 survivors of breast, prostate and colorectal cancers who finished their primary cancer treatments at least two years earlier. These volunteers will be recruited from 10 primary-care practices that are part of the New Jersey Primary Care Research Network.
For 12 months, the volunteers will help test the effects of the educational and support materials provided via web and smart phone application, as well as in the health-coaching sessions. The research will assess how participating in the intervention program affects survivors’ use of preventive health services.
Study participants will be asked about how easy it was to access the information, and how user-friendly the web and phone applications are.
Phone assessments with participants will be made at the beginning, middle and end of the study, with a final assessment six months after the study ends. Ultimately, data from this study will be used to refine the program for testing in other healthcare settings and locations throughout the country.
Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey (www.cinj.org) is the state’s first and only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. As part of Rutgers, the institute is dedicated to improving the detection, treatment and care of patients with cancer, and to serving as an education resource for cancer prevention.