Delivering psychological support remotely to people with brain tumours is on the agenda as part of a new study at Griffith University.

The world-first study – jointly funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and Cancer Council Queensland – is  led by Professor Tamara Ownsworth at Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland, and is using latest telehealth technology to enable people with brain tumour to receive tailored counselling in the comfort of their own homes.

The program, Making Sense of Brain Tumour (MAST) will employ Zoom videoconferencing technology to enable clinical psychologists to provide people with brain tumour and their families with targeted support addressing the specific issues they face related to the illness.

On average each day, 6 Australians are diagnosed with brain and other central nervous system cancers and 4 will die from such diseases. Each year in Australia approximately 1800 individuals, their partners and families find themselves facing the burden of brain tumour in the prime of life.

“Cancer or tumours in the brain pose a double threat – to one’s survival and sense of self, with threat and uncertainty often being at the centre of people’s distress” says Professor Ownsworth.

“Most people with a brain tumour develop serious neuro-cognitive symptoms (e.g. seizures, memory loss) and experience poor mental health and quality of life.

“We have identified over the past ten years of research into this area, that there is very limited specific support for these patients following discharge from hospital and that the illness also places considerable strain on family members.

“People often face issues surrounding their prognosis and treatment outcome, such as whether their tumour will regrow or change to a higher grade. Our previous trials have looked at the benefits of people receiving the MAST intervention in their own home or over the phone with a clinical psychologist; the next step is to bring this into their home in a more effective way using telehealth technology.

Starting in October

The study will start in October this year with the goal of recruiting 120 participants with a primary brain tumour aged between 18-75. Participants will be randomly allocated to receive 10 sessions of psychological support via telehealth delivery or will receive standard psychological support provided by the Cancer Council Queensland. Support will be provided by a clinical psychologist with families/partners encouraged to participate.

“This telehealth intervention will take a person-centered approach,” says Professor Ownsworth. “Every person is different when they have a brain tumour and our intervention aims to really explore the impact that the illness has on everyday life and what matters most to those affected.

“We will help the person and their family to identify meaningful goals that guide the focus of support. For example, some goals might relate to improving how the person copes with the physical, cognitive and behavioural effects of the illness and the impact on their family and work life. They will receive a combination of counselling and rehabilitation as part of the study.”

Professor Ownsworth says the study will result in an in-depth analysis of the impact of the telehealth program on people’s emotional well-being and quality of life as well as the cost-effectiveness of remote delivery psychological support for this population.

“Brain cancer currently has a five-year survival rate of only 25% and has the largest lifetime cost ($1.9 million) per person of any cancer in Australia,” she says.

Interested participants should contact email: t.ownsworth@griffith.edu.au