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American Cancer Society Funds UB Program to Help Women Cope with Breast Cancer

Release Date: May 12, 2011

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Robin Lally is developing tools to support women soon after they have been diagnosed with breast cancer in an effort to reduce the psychological burden associated with diagnosis of the disease.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The breast cancer pretreatment period -- the time during which a woman is diagnosed, meets with physicians and awaits initial treatment -- can be extremely distressing, lonely and confusing. Research demonstrates that approximately one-third of women diagnosed with breast cancer will develop symptoms such as depression and post-traumatic stress at some point in the course of their illness. These symptoms may continue for up to 20 years after diagnosis.

According to Robin Lally, PhD, RN, assistant professor in the UB School of Nursing, giving women tools to support their adjustment to breast cancer early after diagnosis is believed to be the key to reduce this psychological burden.

Lally has received an American Cancer Society Mentored Research Scholar Grant for more than $700,000 to develop and pilot test a tailored, Internet-based education program to help support the initial psychological adjustment to breast cancer during the pretreatment period.

The ACS Mentored Research Scholar Grant, which will fund Lally's research, mentoring and training from 2011 to 2016, provides support to full-time junior faculty with the goal of encouraging beginning investigators to become independent researchers as either clinician scientists or cancer control and prevention researchers.

Lally's mentors for this project are Jean Brown, PhD, RN, FAAN and dean of the UB School of Nursing; Karen Meneses, PhD, RN and associate dean for research, University of Alabama School of Nursing; and Deborah Erwin, PhD, director of Cancer Health Disparities Research at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

For the past 13 years, Lally has been studying the way women think after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. In 2005, her research began to focus on the development of a theory of the thought processes and behaviors associated with the early psychological adjustment to breast cancer in the highly distressing days and weeks immediately following diagnosis.

"My work focuses on the stressful period just following receipt of a breast cancer diagnosis. Since many women receive their diagnosis from a mammography center or their general practitioner and then must identify a clinic and wait to see a breast surgeon, they are often left alone to deal with their anxiety. Through this project, we hope to intervene during this critical time by addressing coping and adjustment needs early," said Lally.

The Internet-based system she will be developing has distinct advantages for delivering the information these patients may need. According to Lally, an Internet-based format will allow women to be reached as soon as possible after a diagnosis. It also allows the patient to control the rate at which she acquaints herself with the diagnosis and related information. The patient receives the information -- in private -- and in a consistent, tailored and repeatable way, in a manner that supports her emotional well-being.

While it is unclear why some women have more difficulty adjusting to breast cancer than others, Lally says, studies suggest that processing and assimilating the experience is associated with a better mental outlook as opposed to avoidance and shutting down, which are associated with greater distress.

What is important is that this ACS-funded education program is an opportunity to reach women, psychologically, at a time when research has demonstrated that the emotional needs of breast cancer patients are often overlooked.

Lally will carry out the project in four phases: content development and evaluation for the Internet-based program; site prototypes that allow for patient feedback; culturally diverse breast cancer survivor focus group evaluations; and the actual pilot study, which will pre- and post-test women newly diagnosed with early-stage disease.

"It is my hope that this program will prove to enhance the psychosocial care radiologic diagnostic centers, and nurses and physicians in busy clinic settings are able to provide to women soon after informing them they have breast cancer," said Lally.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Media Contact Information

Sara Saldi
Senior Editor, Dental Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health
Tel: 716-645-4593
saldi@buffalo.edu
Twitter: srsaldi