Improving Quality of Life for Lung Cancer Survivors

Study leads to a clinical trial of virtual sessions to help people with early-stage lung cancer successfully transition from treatment to follow-up care.

Researchers: Lara Traeger, PhD (primary investigator), Joseph Greer, PhD, and Jennifer Temel, MD
Institution: Massachusetts General Hospital
Area of Focus: Cancer Control and Prevention

The Challenge:  For some people with cancer, the need for treatment and supportive care continues for a long time. Even when the goal of treatment is to cure the cancer, finishing treatment does not mean that a patient’s cancer experience is over. Depending on the type of cancer, patients will have a range of supportive care needs as they transition from active treatment to routine follow-up care (also known as surveillance care).

While there are studies describing what patients most need during this transition, people with lung cancer rarely are included in these quality-of-life (QoL) studies. Thus, their supportive care needs remain a grey area. Research to better understand those needs can inform cancer programs and providers to help patients set the stage for survivorship with coping strategies that address their specific concerns.

The Research: Massachusetts General Hospital recently funded a pilot study of a supportive care intervention for patients who have completed treatment for lung cancer. Results of this study were published in an abstract and presented at the 2021 American Society of Clinical Oncology Quality Care Symposium. American Cancer Society (ACS) did not fund the study, but three of the four abstract authors are current or previous ACS grantees: Lara Traeger, PhD, Joseph Greer, PhD, and Jennifer Temel, MD. (See information about their grants below.)

The researchers interviewed patients about their quality of life after their lung cancer treatments had ended. Then, they used these findings to develop and refine a program to support survivors during the transition from treatment to follow-up care – ensuring that the program addressed the challenges and concerns that patients had described

According to the findings from the study, after curative treatment for lung cancer, patients:

  • Faced unexpected challenges in coping with residual symptoms
  • Felt uncertain about their future health
  • Experienced changes in access to social support

The colleagues co-developed a 5-session, virtual intervention, delivered via phone or video chat. The sessions used a coping skills framework that balanced acceptance- and change-oriented approaches.

Patients who participated in the study said they valued the opportunity to validate their experiences, address current challenges, and cope with difficult emotions.

Although their feedback indicated that timing of the intervention (3 weeks after cancer treatments ended) and its content targeted the patients’ needs and concerns, results suggested that further refinement might enhance their use of new skills.

Jennifer Temel, MD, is an American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professor (grant term 9/1/2020 to 8/31/2025). Her grant project focuses on ensuring the delivery of high-quality care for patients with cancer.

Lara Traeger, PhD, had two grants (1/1/2011 to 12/31/2013 and 7/1/14 to 12/31/2019) related to depression and mental health in cancer patients that lead to a clinical trial of an intervention to help manage cancer pain.

Joseph Greer, PhD, had a grant (1/1/2013 to 12/31/2017) for studying web-based cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety in patients with incurable cancer that also led to a clinical trial.

Why Does it Matter? This pilot study demonstrated the value of the program’s framework and virtual delivery—which supports scalability for survivors of lung cancer regardless of their location. The success of this pilot study helped lead to a clinical trial called The Transitions Project, led by Lara Traeger, PhD.