Cancer during adolescence : Psychological consequences and development of psychological treatment

Abstract: The overall aim of the present thesis was to examine long-term psychological distress following cancer during adolescence and to develop a tailored psychological intervention to reduce cancer-related distress experienced by young survivors of adolescent cancer that was feasible and acceptable.Study I adopted a longitudinal design, assessing health-related quality of life (HRQOL) and symptoms of anxiety and depression among adolescents diagnosed with cancer from shortly after diagnosis (n=61) up to 10 years after diagnosis (n=28). Findings suggest that development of HRQOL and anxiety and depression is not linear and whilst the majority adjust well, a subgroup report long-term elevated distress. In Study II, experiences of cancer-related psychological distress were explored using unstructured interviews. Participants described cancer treatment as a mental challenge, felt marked and hindered by the cancer experience, and struggled with feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, existential issues, and difficulties handling emotions. Study III was a preliminary investigation of individualised cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), alongside the identification and conceptualisation of cancer-related concerns using cognitive-behavioural theory. Significant difficulties with recruitment were encountered. Participants reported cancer-related concerns conceptualised as social avoidance, fear and avoidance of emotions and bodily symptoms, imbalance in activity, and worry and rumination. In Study IV, the acceptability and feasibility of an internet-administered CBT based self-help intervention (ICBT) for young persons diagnosed with cancer during adolescence was examined using an uncontrolled design and embedded process evaluation. The study protocol for Study IV was included in this thesis along with preliminary findings demonstrating significant difficulties with recruitment.Overall, findings suggest that whilst the majority of survivors of adolescent cancer adjust well over time a subgroup report elevated levels of distress and a range of distressing cancer-related experiences. A number of cancer-related difficulties were identified in Study II and III, which may be used to inform the development of future psychological treatments for the population. Preliminary investigation of the psychological interventions examined within this thesis further highlights the need for future development work to enhance the feasibility and acceptability of psychological support for the population.