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Study to test if new talking therapy can help cancer survivors cope

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Researchers from leading UK universities and NHS trusts are to carry out a major new project to develop and test a talking-based therapy for cancer survivors.

Led by Queen Mary University of London, Barts Health NHS Trust and King’s College London, the project has been awarded £2.5m by the National Institute for Health Research.

“It could be implemented across the NHS to help those cancer survivors who are struggling to cope”

Steph Taylor

Even though cancer survivors may be in good physical health or in long-term remission, the impact of cancer and its treatment can be very difficult, noted the researchers.

They said they hoped that the new therapy would “transform” aftercare for those living with and beyond cancer. They noted that previous research had suggested that cognitive behavioural therapy and exercise have some effect on improving the quality of life of cancer survivors.

The new Survivors’ Rehabilitation Evaluation after CANcer (SURECAN) project will assess a variation of CBT known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

It is intended to help patients accept what they cannot change – for example, that the cancer might recur – and commit themselves to goals they are able to and want to achieve, such as becoming closer to loved ones.

As it is known that exercise is helpful and work is important to many patients, the therapy will also have options for physical activity and work support, if these are deemed important by the patient.

The project aims to conduct a full trial of 344 participants at three centres in London and Sheffield to determine whether the talking-based therapy improves quality of life more than usual aftercare. The charity Macmillan Cancer Support is also involved.

SURECAN will look at safety and cost-effectiveness, evaluate for whom and how the therapy works best, and how it could be adapted for different cultures, including patients at Barts in East London whose first language is Sylheti.

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Co-chief investigator Professor Steph Taylor, from Queen Mary, said: “There are some two million cancer survivors in the UK, which is a great success story, but about a third of these patients report poor quality of life or well-being.

“This is because of problems such as fatigue, fear of cancer recurrence, and concerns about returning to work,” she said.

“If the talking-based therapy proves successful and cost effective, it could be implemented across the NHS to help those cancer survivors who are struggling to cope after the completion of their treatment,” she said.

The project will also involve researchers from Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Westminster, Brunel University, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Southampton.

 

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