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Doctor consults with cancer patient and her father
Photo by Rhoda Baer

SAN DIEGO—New research suggests an intervention can improve psychosocial health in adolescents and young adults (AYAs) living with cancer.

The intervention, Promoting Resilience in Stress Management (PRISM), is designed to help patients manage stress, set goals, and change their perspective.

Overall, PRISM improved resilience, enhanced quality of life, increased hope, and lowered distress and depression in the patients studied.

Abby R. Rosenberg, MD, of Seattle Children’s Research Institute in Seattle, Washington, presented these results at the 2017 Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology Symposium (abstract 176*).

“The experience of cancer is stressful in all realms, but we tend to focus more on physical symptoms than the equally important social and emotional challenges,” Dr Rosenberg said.

“This is particularly true for adolescents and young adults who already struggle with normal developmental changes. When you throw cancer into the mix, it can become much harder.”

With this in mind, Dr Rosenberg and her colleagues tested PRISM in AYAs with cancer. The trial included 99 English-speaking patients, ages 12 to 25, who were diagnosed with new or newly recurrent cancer.

The patients were randomized to receive PRISM (n=49) plus standard psychosocial supportive care or standard care alone (n=50). Standard care at Seattle Children’s Research Institute includes a dedicated social worker and access to psychologists, child-life specialists, and other experts in AYA oncology care, as needed.

PRISM targets 4 topics:

  • Managing stress with skills based on mindfulness and relaxation
  • Setting goals that are specific and realistic, as well as planning for roadblocks
  • Positive reframing, or recognizing and replacing negative self-talk
  • Making meaning, or identifying benefits, gratitude, purpose, and legacy.

Each of the 4 topics were discussed with patients in separate, one-on-one sessions with a trained research associate. The sessions lasted 30 minutes to an hour. Patients also received boosters and worksheets for practicing the skills discussed in the meetings.

After all 4 sessions had been completed, patients could participate in an optional family meeting. During this meeting, patients could discuss with their family members which aspects of PRISM worked.


Patients completed surveys at study enrollment, 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months. There were 74 participants who were still alive and well enough to complete the 6-month survey—36 in the PRISM group and 38 in the control group.

At the 6-month mark, PRISM was associated with (sometimes significant) improvements in resilience (P=0.02), generic quality of life (P=0.08), cancer-specific quality of life (P=0.01), hope (P=0.34), and distress (P=0.03). (P values are for absolute difference from baseline to 6 months.)

In addition, the incidence of depression at 6 months was lower in the PRISM group than the control group—6% and 21%, respectively (odds ratio=0.09, 95% CI 0.01, 1.09).

All but 4 of the PRISM recipients chose to participate in the family meeting following their one-on-one sessions.

“We included the family meeting because teens told us they wanted to share with their parents, and parents told us they wanted to know what their children had learned,” Dr Rosenberg said. “While the specific impact of this meeting is yet to be determined, we hope it will guide families so that there is continued support of teen or young adult patients.”

Now, Dr Rosenberg and her colleagues would like to test PRISM in other patient populations.

“We need to include a much larger cultural demographic in future studies,” Dr Rosenberg noted. “Beyond that, we also need to determine if this type of intervention could translate to other centers where usual care may not be as comprehensive as what we have here.”

*Some data in the abstract differ from the presentation.

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