Cancer support just a click away

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An online resource to help cancer patients cope with the physical, social and emotional stressors of the disease will be evaluated under a new Flinders University project.

Flinders researchers Dr Lisa Beatty, Professor Bogda Koczwara and Professor Tracey Wade will soon begin a three-year study to assess the efficacy of the internet Cancer Coping Guide (iCanCope) – a free program providing individuals with early stage cancer a chance to learn important facts and practical tips about cancer at their own pace.

Originally developed by Dr Beatty as a print-based workbook for women with breast cancer, iCanCope has now grown into a series of self-guided modules each focusing on a different topic relevant to cancer adjustment, from how to overcome the many physical and emotional challenges of the disease to life after treatment.

The study is being funded through a $380,989 grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council’s 2013 funding scheme, part of the total pool of $6,215,636 in funding awarded across 13 projects to Flinders researchers.

Dr Beatty, the study’s chief investigator, said the funding boost would allow her team of 12 researchers Australia-wide to expand the resource into a fully interactive platform featuring worksheets, quizzes, videos and relaxation and meditation tracks.

In the second stage of the project, she said the researchers would conduct a national trial whereby up to 200 participants would be randomly selected to compare a basic information-only version of the program against one that includes the interactive, therapeutic elements.

“We know that approximately 40 per cent of people suffer clinically significant distress from cancer such as depression and anxiety,” Dr Beatty, based in the School of Psychology, said.

“But we also know that less than 25 per cent of these people attend face-to-face therapy, partly because of the ongoing stigma attached to attending psychological therapy, coupled with a lack of freely available mental health cancer services in Australia.

“So providing self-help, particularly online self-help, partially addresses that gap.”

Dr Beatty said a preliminary evaluation of her original cancer workbook, which went online in 2010, showed promising results in reducing cancer-related distress, traumatic stress and improving coping.

She said the overall aim of the expanded iCanCope program was to empower those affected by cancer to cope more effectively with the day-to-day challenges the disease can bring.

“For a lot of cancer patients, often they’re not physically up to attending additional appointments but this resource allows them to receive information and coping strategies in the privacy of their own home, and at their own pace.

“They can pick the days they do feel well enough to log on, and it’s also a more cost-effective option than face-to-face therapy.”

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