Cincinnati—University of Cincinnati (UC) researchers are conducting a pilot study to identify early warning signs of depression in newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. Their goal is to create a screening protocol that will allow for early intervention and behavioral health treatment.
According to Institute of Medicine research, many patients believe their psychological and social needs (referred to as psychosocial factors) are overlooked by their physicians during cancer treatment.
“Too often physicians focus exclusively on patients’ medical needs and overlook the personal challenges they are struggling to overcome in day-to-day life,” says Ruth Lavigne, MD, a UC assistant professor and radiation oncologist at the UC Barrett Cancer Center at University Hospital. “Without intervention, these changes can lead to serious depression that may be detrimental to the patient’s physical recovery.”
For this study, newly diagnosed breast cancer patients are given a 12-question survey to screen for signs of depression at the beginning of radiation treatment and during the two week and three month medical follow-up visits. The survey measures patients’ perceived functioning, symptoms and emotional distress as a gauge of overall mental and physical well being.
Study participants who demonstrate warning signs of depression are referred to Cancer Family Care for follow-up behavioral health services at no cost. Personal interactions with the physician will be taken into account when deciding whom to refer for counseling services.
“Studies have shown there is a connection between mental and physical health,” adds Carol Huber, director of clinical services at Cancer Family Care and study collaborator. “Cancer treatment makes a lot of patients feel awful, but the worst typically happens during and after treatment because the patient is tired, stressed and dealing with changing relationships.”
Since the study began, 35 percent of women in the study have tested positive for depression. Patients will be reassessed at the conclusion of treatment to determine if the patients experienced better health outcomes as a result of behavioral health services.
“We’re focused on treating the whole patient and understanding how their mental state of mind impacts physical health,” says Carla Williams, department of psychiatry research consultant and study collaborator. “We want to help patients get through the psychosocial challenges of a chronic illness while improving their overall quality of life.”
The multidisciplinary research project is a collaboration of UC’s departments of radiation oncology and psychiatry, the Barrett Center and Cancer Family Care, a nonprofit organization that provides counseling, education and emotional support to people affected by cancer or cancer-related death.
Funding for the project came from the Marlene Harris-Ride Cincinnati Fund, a pilot grant program administered through the joint cancer program. Three to five grants are awarded to scientists annually, based on the amount of funds generated at the Ride Cincinnati cycling event held in June.
For more information on this study enrollment, contact Lisa Scott at (513) 584-4073. To find a UC cancer clinical trial, visit www.uccancercenter.uc.edu/research/clinicaltrials.