Helping cancer survivors in the aftermath of treatment is the goal of a new £2.5 million project that will design and test a new kind of talking therapy for patients.

Damien Ridge, Professor of Health Studies and Head of Psychology at the University of Westminster, will co-lead on research designed to shape the randomised control trial, including looking at how to make the talking therapy approach more useful to a culturally diverse population; determining details of the talking therapy approach taken in the trial, and finally, optimising the talking therapy approach for the NHS following the trial.

The 5-year project, which has been supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), is to be carried out by a consortium of researchers including the University of Westminster, Queen Mary University of London, Barts Health NHS Trust, King's College London and others.

Even though increased cancer survivorship is a great success story for the UK, the impact of cancer and its treatment can take a huge emotional toll on survivors. The researchers hope that the new therapy will transform aftercare for those living with and beyond cancer.

Professor Damien Ridge said about the project: “Our research shows that the provision of post-cancer follow-up care isn’t universal or consistent in the UK. Yet cancer survivors have huge fears about the cancer coming back. They are frequently tired, anxious and depressed. And they worry about whether or not they can go back to work. This is where our project comes in. If successful, our approach could be used widely in the NHS in years to come.”

The SUrvivors' Rehabilitation Evaluation after CANcer (SURECAN) project will assess a variation of a talking therapy known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which puts patients’ views about what they value most in their lives at the heart of the therapy. ACT helps patients to accept what they cannot change (e.g. the cancer might recur) and commit themselves to goals they are able to and want to achieve, based on their own values (e.g. becoming closer to loved ones).

As it is known that exercise is helpful and work is important to many patients, the therapy will have options for physical activity and work support, if these are deemed important by the patient.

The project aims to conduct a full trial of 344 participants at three centres in London and Sheffield to determine whether the talking-based therapy improves quality of life more than usual aftercare, and will involve Macmillan Cancer Support.

Learn about the Department of Psychology at the University of Westminster.

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