A new study aiming to better understand communication between prostate cancer patients, their support people (those who attend medical appointments with them as well as provide other care and support), and their oncologist/healthcare providers, during cancer treatment appointments, has received funding from the 2022 Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Cancer Prevention and Control (CPC) Research Stimulus Small Awards Program.
The research proposal, “Companion Influence on Communication During Prostate Cancer Care,” was submitted by SC&I Professor of Communication Kathryn Greene and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Associate Professor of Pediatrics Katie Devine, who will serve as Multiple Principal Investigators for the project; SC&I Associate Professor of Communication Maria Venetis Ph.D.'10 and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Associate Professor of Medicine Biren Saraiya who are Co-Investigators; and SC&I Ph.D. students Liesl Broadbridge, Lauren Lee, and Angela Senger-Mersich. The team will examine how support persons’ presence in prostate cancer appointments facilitates and/or inhibits communication between patients and providers, and how that in turn impacts patients’ mental health outcomes (symptoms of depression and anxiety) and quality of life.
Greene said, “Understanding what influences patient-provider communication and subsequent psychological well-being is critical for providing effective cancer care.”
Their research methods will include a cross-sectional survey of male patients with prostate cancer who regularly attend their cancer visits with a support person. They will also run a parallel survey of support people who regularly attend cancer visits with a prostate cancer patient. Participants will be recruited at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey as well as online through community groups.
Through these surveys, the team aims to answer three key questions: how prostate cancer patients and their support people differ in communication patterns during the medical visits; how their sharing and withholding of cancer-related symptoms with their healthcare team is associated with their quality of life; and how these communication patterns differ based on participants’ dominant language preferences and across underrepresented racial/ethnic groups across the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey catchment area. Specifically, the team will explore whether communication patterns differ across non-Hispanic white (English speaking), Hispanic (Spanish speaking), and southeast Asian (Gujarati speaking) men with prostate cancer.
In addition to their inclusion of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups in their research, the project is significant in several other ways. Greene and Broadbridge said, “We know that health care providers currently have little guidance for when and how to probe for withheld information or navigate situations in which patients’ and companions’ sharing patterns conflict while attending oncology visits together. Healthcare providers’ difficulties managing these interactions may lead to reduced quality of and dissatisfaction with overall cancer care, the treatment plan, or with specific healthcare providers. We also know that patients’ sharing and withholding patterns can affect quality of life outcomes. Our research group has found (detailed in a forthcoming paper) that better psychological adjustment is associated with more sharing and less withholding of information from cancer providers.”