From the Journals

Baseline stress signals need for psychological help in CLL


 

FROM ANNALS OF BEHAVIORAL MEDICINE

Baseline cancer-specific stress predicts poorer psychological function during chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatment, according to a prospective study of 152 patients.

“These findings suggest that integration of psychological intervention for patients who have high cancer-specific stress at baseline might be appropriate for this population,” wrote investigators led by Neha G. Goyal, PhD, a research fellow at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.

The subjects all had relapsed/refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). They filled out mental and physical function questionnaires at baseline, then at months 1, 2, and 5 during a nonrandomized phase 2 trial of ibrutinib (Imbruvica). The findings were published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Cancer-specific stress – essentially traumatic stress associated with cancer diagnosis, recurrence, and treatment – was assessed by the Impact of Event Scale, a common cancer research tool in which patients rate the intensity of intrusive thoughts and avoidant thoughts and behaviors. A score of 8 – out of a range of 0-64 – was the cut point used to separate patients with low versus high stress; higher scores mean worse symptoms.

“At treatment initiation, cancer-specific stress was associated with higher levels of cognitive-affective depressive symptoms, negative mood, fatigue interference, and sleep problems, and lower mental health quality of life. While patients with higher cancer-specific stress at baseline improved more rapidly on these outcomes ... higher cancer-specific stress at baseline was still associated with poorer psychological outcomes, but not physical outcomes, at 5 months,” the investigators said (Ann Behav Med. 2018 Feb 9. doi: 10.1093/abm/kax004).

For instance, high-stress patients started the trial with mean scores of about 4.5 on the 42-point cognitive-affective subscale of the Beck Depression Inventory; scores improved to about 2.5 after 5 months of treatment. Low-stress patients, however, started and ended the study with scores of about 1.5.

Cancer-specific stress has been associated with poorer outcomes in previous cancer studies, but its impact on CLL hasn’t been clear until now. It might be a particularly bad problem in CLL, because the disease is incurable and patients go through multiple relapses and treatment cycles.

“There has been a call to screen cancer patients to determine those who may be at risk for poor outcomes, and assessment of cancer-specific stress may have clinical utility as an individual difference predictor of psychological responses,” the team noted.

The mean age in the study was 64.1 years; 71% of the subjects were men. The majority were educated beyond high school, and almost all reported significant, supportive relationships. Patients had a median of three prior therapies, but one patients had been through 16.

Dr. Goyal reported having no financial disclosures. One author disclosed ties to Pharmacyclics and Janssen, marketers of ibrutinib. The work was supported by the National Cancer Institute and Pharmacyclics, among others.

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