DCU research shows link between cancer survivors and quality of life

James Nolan

The study was led by Professor Pamela Gallagher from the School of Nursing and Human Sciences and involved 300 head and neck cancer survivors

Survivors’ performance of key self-management skills after treatment for head and neck cancer, has a strong link with their measurement of quality of life and also fears that their cancer may return, according to research led by DCU.

The study was led by Professor Pamela Gallagher from the School of Nursing and Human Sciences and involved 300 head and neck cancer survivors. The investigation focused on the relationship between self management behaviours and quality of life and fear of reoccurrence following treatment for head and neck cancer.

Results of the research displayed positive practices, including positive and active engagement in every day life. Survivors were seen to show constructive attitudes and approaches to the illness and the development of skills and techniques to cope with life after the treatment were associated with a significantly higher quality of life and a lower fear of cancer returning.

Furthermore, the study also highlighted that excessive self-monitoring of one’s condition, and “hyper-vigilance” such as obsessively checking for any signs of symptoms, might have a negative impact on the quality of life and levels of fear surrounding the return of cancer amongst the survivors.

Lead researcher, Professor Pamela Gallagher commented that services for survivors of head and neck cancer are limited once primary treatment concludes and that further support needs to be provided to these individuals

“There are limited health service resources available for head and neck cancer survivors once primary treatment has ended. This means that survivors need to self-manage the often substantial physical, emotional and social consequences of their condition by themselves.”

“We have found that these individuals are resourceful and creative in how they manage these consequences. However, there is a need to provide further support to these individuals, particularly in the period when they transition from the acute setting to self-managing their condition at home,” said Gallagher.

The self-management strategies of cancer survivors are particularly important after primary treatment as they have less involvement with and less access to specialist professionals. The complexity of the consequences of cancers in the head and neck area and their treatment means that survivors need to deploy a wide variety of strategies to cope with physical, social and psychological challenges that emerge post-treatment.

All eligible participants in this study in Ireland with a registered diagnosis of head and neck cancer were identified in association with the National Cancer Registry, with 272 males and 123 females taking part in the population-based survey.

The majority of participants had undergone surgery for head and neck cancer, or a combination of surgery and radiotherapy, and were within 12-24 months of finishing treatment.

Building on from a previous work in the area, published in Psycho-Oncology in October 2018, researchers has found that the overall implication which has emerged from the programme is that bespoke self-management programmes are required to respond to the specific physical, emotional and social issues of head and neck cancer survivors, in order to help overcome the challenges that may arise in the aftermath of treatment.

Cancer of head and neck is among the top ten most common cancers in Ireland with around 500 cases diagnosed in 2017.

James Nolan

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