Digital App May Help Relieve Stress, Depression, Fatigue in Cancer Survivors

Cancer survivors may experience psychological side effects of cancer and can benefit from stress management interventions, although these in-person services are often limited.

Digital stress management apps may help aid and support cancer survivors who face psychological side effects of cancer such as anxiety, depression and fatigue, according to results of a recent study.

Lise Solberg Nes, senior author on this study and head of the Department of Digital Health Research at Oslo University Hospital in Norway, explained in an interview with CURE® that it is important for cancer survivors to have support outlets because of the challenges they face, which can impact their daily life.

“A cancer diagnosis can be life threatening. This is — needless to say — in itself stressful. But even with survivorship and good prognosis for the future, fatigue, pain, uncertainty and worry may be present, and for many cancer survivors, life is changed after cancer. They may look the same to others, but life is forever changed, whether it impacts energy level, ability to work, relationships with friends and family, or their own outlook on life. Many cancer survivors also live with a constant ‘hidden’ stressor: (the) worry about cancer recurrence,” said Solberg Nes, who’s also an adjunct associate professor of psychology at the College of Medicine and Science at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

She added, “Having someone professional to talk to about challenges that may occur can be of great help. This is why evidence-based psychosocial interventions in support of cancer survivors are so important. The current study shows how a digital stress management program can provide such support, helping cancer survivors gain knowledge and strategies that may provide and facilitate the use of coping strategies for support at their own preference and convenience.”

Previously, cognitive-behavioral stress management interventions have demonstrated improved psychological well-being in cancer survivors; however, the availability, access and outreach of these in-person interventions are often limited.

“Unfortunately, these types of in-person psychosocial interventions are not always offered or available, and new ways to deliver such support and improve availability and outreach are needed,” Solberg Nes explained. “This is why this study is so important; it shows how these highly beneficial psychosocial stress management interventions can be effective also when delivered digitally (for example, in the form of an app-based program), making helpful intervention programs accessible to cancer survivors anytime and anywhere.”

Solberg Nes and researchers compared the efficacy of StressProffen, a stress management digital app for cancer survivors (84 patients), to usual care (88 patients). Stress, anxiety and depression, fatigue and health-related quality of life were evaluated at the start of the study, at six months and at 12 months.

Results, which were published in the journal Cancer, demonstrated that over 12 months, patients who used the app had significantly decreased stress, depression and fatigue, in addition to improved health-related quality of life compared with those patients receiving usual care. Solberg Nes said that patients who used the app had an improved ability to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviors, which was a “very rewarding” finding.

She added that there were promising findings at six months as well, which demonstrated survivors using StressProffen had a decrease in anxiety at that point.

“(These results) are definitely significant. This study really shows how effective psychosocial interventions can be delivered through digital formats, providing support to cancer survivors in the form of coping strategies that can in fact help reduce stress, anxiety, depression and self-regulatory fatigue, as well as help improve health-related quality of life, for cancer survivors. Several clinicians and researchers have pointed to the potential of such digital delivery, but this study shows how it can actually be done with (an) effect which may even be considered dramatic,” she said.

Solberg Nes concluded that these interventions are important to improving a survivor’s quality of life, and studies such as this one demonstrated potential in what she calls “blended care,” which integrates both in-person and remote interventions.

“This study shows how digital stress management interventions such as StressProffe, built on evidence, … have the potential to improve outreach and provide easily available and effective psychosocial support for cancer survivors,” she concluded.

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