Previous research that included educational interventions for breast cancer patients was conducted while women were undergoing treatment. This study, however, involved women whose treatment had ended, when patients were trying to return to their daily routines. The paper also focused on women younger than 50, an age group that is more likely to suffer emotional distress as a result of their illness.
"These are women who had gone through some combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy and then were told by their doctors 'OK, your treatment is over, it's time to try to go on with your life.' These women experience anxiety. They wonder about their cancer," said Michael Scheier, head of the Department of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon and the study's lead author.
The researchers followed the experiences of 252 women beginning two months after the completion of their treatment. The women were divided into three groups. One group received no interventions. The second attended four educational sessions that covered topics including talking to children about cancer; maintaining a healthy relationship with their partners; the impact their treatment has on their reproductive health; and the genetics of cancer. The third group received information about maintaining a healthy diet, including shopping and cooking tips.
Based on surveys of the study participants, the women who received either the educational or nutritional intervention were less likely to be depressed and were more optimistic about their overall health and their ability to cope with their illness than the women who had received no intervention. The nutritional intervention had a greater impact than the educational intervention.
"This is the first time that a nutritional intervention has been explicitly used to enhance the patients' quality of life," Scheier said. Normally, researchers who provide nutritional interventions are primarily concerned about the effects of the interventions on the person's diet and eating patterns. This study shows that such programs can have effects that are even broader.
The researchers conducted the surveys four months after the end of the interventions and then again nine months later. The effects of the intervention grew more pronounced over time. The results of the study confirmed the researchers' hypothesis that the interventions would give cancer survivors a greater feeling of control over their health and emotional well-being. Further research will examine whether the effects of the interventions remain over a period of several years after treatment.