Pilot Study Seeks to Offer Social Support to Patients with Mesothelioma 

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Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) reported that group therapy sessions may help patients cope with mesothelioma. Their two-part pilot study, which began recruitment in May 2011, is examining the emotional burden of the cancer and offers discussion groups as a source of support for patients. Jimmie Holland, MD, senior author of the study said the project’s goal is to identify patients’ needs and quality of life and determine the feasibility and promise of a virtual support group for patients with mesothelioma. The researchers reported their preliminary findings in a poster presented at the American Psychosocial Oncology Society (APOS) Annual Conference, held recently in Huntington Beach, California.1

Patient Questionnaire

Little research has addressed the unique psychological issues of mesothelioma patients and their caregivers. Thus, part 1 of the ongoing study is a questionnaire about their physical, emotional, and social well-being. Patients often complete the survey while in clinic. It takes 45 minutes to finish, and can be taken home to minimize the burden.

At the time of the APOS meeting, 61 people had participated. The recruitment goal is 90. Overall, 69% of participants are male and 84% are white. The respondents range in age from 35 to 83 years old.

Data from part 1 of the study indicate that patients with mesothelioma have high social and family well-being but poor physical health. Most patients were not highly depressed based on self-reporting. The most common coping method was emotional support followed by acceptance. The least used was behavioral disengagement and substance abuse.

Virtual Discussion Group

Part 2 of the study is a virtual discussion group conducted primarily over the phone, although there is an Internet component. It includes six 1-hour sessions facilitated by a social worker. The topics covered are determined by the patients on the call and range from family support to treatment options to disease education.

According to the researchers, one challenge has been the inability of patients to navigate the computer technology. However, the Internet has allowed patients to participate who might otherwise not be able to do so because of their location or deteriorating health.

Part 2 found that patient well-being did not change significantly after group therapy. However, 87% of participants reported being satisfied or extremely satisfied with the experience, and 87% agreed that they obtained useful or somewhat useful information from the session. Most participants said they would recommend the group to other cancer patients.

Moving forward, the team at MSKCC hopes to “complete recruitment and use information collected from the study to find ways to lessen physical and emotional stress on patients with mesothelioma,” said research assistant Caraline Craig. ■

Disclosure: Dr. Holland and Ms. Craig reported no potential conflicts of interest.


1. Craig C, Blackler L, Starr T, et al: The psychosocial impact of mesothelioma: A pilot study examining patient needs and the promise of a virtual discussion group. 2013 American Psychosocial Oncology Society Annual Conference. Abstract P2-55. Presented February 16, 2013.