Australian researchers have developed an online tool to help cancer survivors manage their fear of cancer recurrence.
A research team has made a digital adaptation of a therapist-led treatment called ConquerFear, originally developed by the Psycho-Oncology Co-operative Research Group, a national cancer clinical studies group at the University of Sydney. The treatment has proven itself effective in reducing anxiety after cancer treatment.
The digital program, called iConquerFear, offers strategies and techniques for dealing with the fear of cancer recurrence. It consists of five modules with interactive exercises on goal setting, attention training and mindfulness.
WHY IT MATTERS
“Getting help to cope with the fear of cancer recurrence is a cancer survivor’s greatest unmet need, ahead of pain, fatigue and other physical symptoms,” said lead researcher Dr. BenSmith.
About half of all cancer survivors in the world have a high fear of cancer recurrence, associated with psychological distress, poorer quality of life and increased use of health services.
dr Smith, who is also a Senior Research Fellow at the University of New South Wales-Sydney Medicine & Health’s South West Sydney Clinical School, said: “[e]Existing interventions, while effective, are inaccessible to many Australian cancer survivors, particularly those in rural and remote areas.” Additionally, the already strained healthcare system lacks the resources to meet such mental health needs.
So, more scalable digital interventions promise to fill this gap, according to the co-lead of the research, Dr. Adeola Bamgboje-Ayodele from the Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research.
While self-directed digital interventions have the potential to address a cancer survivor’s psychological needs, existing digital interventions “either do not use the cognitive behavioral strategies that we know to be particularly effective in reducing anxiety, or were not developed with as much input or feedback from cancer survivors,” noted Dr. Smith.
That’s why the research team designed iConquerFear to focus on user experience, interactive exercises, and personalized feedback to be more accessible and scalable compared to existing treatments.
In a recent online treatment study, most of the 54 cancer survivors reduced the severity of their anxiety during and after an intervention, while a quarter reported significant clinical improvements in reducing their anxiety.
“We saw strong initial uptake and engagement and promising reductions in anxiety recurrence — on a scale that we saw in person. It suggests that digital interventions may indeed improve access to psychosocial support and facilitate self-management by survivors. ‘ added Dr. Smith added.
THE BIGGER TREND
Prior to its full launch in Australia, iConquerFear will first be tested for efficacy in a randomized controlled trial being conducted in partnership with Ovarian Cancer Australia.
Meanwhile, US-based digital therapeutics company Blue Note Therapeutics has licensed both the iConquerFear and ConquerFear programs to develop a counterpart version for the North American market.
“We are open to exploring commercial models with partners that would maximize the accessibility and impact of iConquerFear in Australia and beyond,” said Dr. Smith.
In other news, the Australian government has provided new funding to continue to support the Ovarian Cancer Australia psychosocial telemedicine services. The nonprofit organization offers this support through its Teal Support Program, which has helped over 400 ovarian cancer patients since its launch in 2019. With the latest funding, the organization could support 800 more women, particularly those from the area using telehealth services.