Project details

Researcher: Professor Gerry Michael Humphris

Location: University of St Andrews

Project title: FORECAST 2 - designing and implementing a training package for radiographers to help manage patients’ fear of their breast cancer returning

Key area: Treatment

The challenge 

In breast cancer patients who have completed their treatment, about 40% develop a fear that their cancer will return to the extent that this fear has a severe effect on their quality of life. Several psychological interventions are being developed to tackle patient’s fears once treatment has ended, however they can be difficult to implement.

Professor Humphris believes it may be more effective to identify the point when fear of recurrence begins to emerge during treatment, so that it can be managed at an earlier stage. As such, he aims to develop new ways to manage and reduce patient anxiety, which can be easily adopted by medical teams.

The science behind the project

A previous study by Professor Humphris, known as FORECAST, found that nearly a third of patients begin to develop fears that their cancer will return as they near the end of their treatment, which is typically radiotherapy. FORECAST, which was funded by Breast Cancer Now, suggested that this onset of fear may be linked to a reduction in communications between patients and radiographers, meaning that the emotional concerns of the patient are not being addressed. 

Professor Humphris and his team now plan to carry out a follow up study – FORECAST 2 – which aims to develop training materials to help radiographers understand and manage personal communications more effectively, enabling them to reassure patients and help alleviate their fears of the cancer returning. 

To develop the training materials, the team will consult members of the Society and College of Radiographers and former patients. The training package will focus on gaining knowledge about the patient, encouraging patients to express their concerns and anxieties and advising medical staff on how best to communicate with patients as they near the end of their treatment, particularly when addressing their emotional concerns. 

The team will assess the feasibility of implementing the training materials by trialling them in staff at a local cancer specialist centre. They will gather feedback to find out how easily the intervention is adopted by staff and whether it can benefit patients. This could then lead to wider trials across the UK. 

What difference will this project make?

This study is the first intervention dedicated to reducing fear of cancer return in patients before they finish treatment. By tackling patient’s anxieties at an earlier stage, it aims to help prevent these fears from having a detrimental effect on quality of life. This study is also likely to improve relationships and communications between medical staff and patients, which is likely to improve patient satisfaction with their treatment.