A paper by a Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Medicine research scientist in the highly influential journal, “Cancer,” was among the journal’s top 10 percent most-downloaded papers of the last year.
The study was a randomized controlled trial that found that acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) helped cancer survivors cope with their fear that cancer would return.
Shelley Johns, PsyD, was the first author on the paper. She is a research scientist with Regenstrief’s Center for Health Services Research, an assistant professor and an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at the IU School of Medicine, and a research scientist and a clinical health psychologist at Eskenazi Health.
The study is the first of its kind. Results showed that breast cancer survivors who received ACT showed significantly larger improvements in dealing with the fear of recurrence when compared to survivors who received other treatments. Fear of recurrence is very common in survivors of cancer, causing anxiety, depression and diminished quality of life. Up to 70 percent of breast cancer survivors report that the fear affects their daily life.
In ACT, therapists work with survivors to practice mindfulness, helping them pay attention to the present moment without letting fears about the future interfere with their quality of life.
The study compared the effect of ACT, survivorship education and enhanced usual care on fear of recurrence. The research team assessed the participants’ fear at the beginning of the study, immediately after the intervention, one month after, and then six months after. Each of the three groups showed reductions in the severity of their fear, but only ACT led to significant improvements at each evaluation, and the effect continued to grow as time went on.
In addition, the success of recruitment and retention rates in the study demonstrated that this treatment is feasible.