Center News

Prostate cancer priorities

Alliance study aims to reduce anxiety with customized information

Feb. 5, 2004
Mary Galligan

Alliance nurse Mary Galligan will co-lead a study to improve care for prostate-cancer patients.

Photo by Todd McNaught

Men who receive radiation therapy for prostate cancer frequently experience anxiety about their treatment and its side effects. A new study to be conducted at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance may improve the ability of health-care providers to alleviate these concerns.

The project will assess a patient's information needs before, during and after radiation therapy, a common type of treatment with for men whose disease has not spread beyond the prostate. Results of the study will provide nurses with guidance on how best to deliver customized information to a man during and shortly after therapy. The study's approach is based on previous research that has shown that information tailored to patients' concerns when they are deciding on a type of treatment can reduce anxiety.

The study will be conducted by Dr. Donna Berry, an associate professor of Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems at the University of Washington and nurse researcher at the Alliance; Mary Galligan, a radiation-oncology nurse at the Alliance; and Dr. Joyce Davison at Vancouver General Hospital in Canada. The study is funded by a nearly $10,000 grant from the Oncology Nursing Society Foundation.

Once a prostate-cancer patient opts to undergo radiation therapy, nurses inform them about what they can expect to experience, Berry said.

"We'd like to determine what topics should be delivered first during this vulnerable time and what are a man's information-priority needs as he progresses through his treatment and after his treatment ends," she said. "We have a hunch that unloading all of this information in one session isn't most useful for patients. We'd like to learn how best to spread it out in a meaningful way, and this will help us learn how to do that most effectively."

Information needs

The study will involve 55 men with prostate cancer who elect to undergo radiation therapy at the Alliance. Participants will complete computerized surveys about their information needs and distress symptoms they experience at their initial evaluation and at two-, four- and six-week time points during their treatment. They will also complete the surveys 30 days after treatment ends. Results will be analyzed using an information-priority computer program developed by Davison.

Galligan, who regularly works with patients undergoing radiation therapy at the Alliance, said that nurses currently rely on their expertise and experience when counseling patients about treatment questions and side effect.

"We decide which things we think are important to convey to patients and the appropriate time to deliver that information," she said. "By querying patients about their learning needs, I'm hoping we can improve our understanding of what's most useful to them. We may find that we're already doing a great job, or we may discover that we need to think about this differently. This study will be a great tool to help us do that."

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a world leader in research to prevent, detect and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.