More than a listening ear: psychosocial aftercare effective for cancer patients
Ingeborg van der Meulen-de Goeij studied the effects of the NUCAI (Nurse Counseling After Intervention) psychosocial intervention in patients with head and neck cancer. The intervention proved to be successful in that depressive symptoms were reduced and quality of life improved
Head and neck cancer is cancer of the soft tissue in the head and neck, such as the lips, tongue, throat, larynx and neck glands. Around five percent of cancer patients have this type of cancer, which is more common in men around the age of sixty.
Ingeborg explains, “During treatment, patients focus on recovery. After treatment, they are sent home and suffer from physical symptoms like dry mouth, eating difficulties, facial paralysis and/or altered shoulder function. These symptoms cause many patients to become depressed and experience a reduced quality of life.”
After treatment has ended, every patient has a medical follow-up appointment at the hospital once every two months. The focus of this meeting is on a possible return of the disease and physical complaints. Time and attention to the psychosocial impact of the disease for the patient are often limited. Patients with depressive symptoms may be referred to a psychologist, but many patients do not want to take this step.
The NUCAI intervention
In her research, Ingeborg linked the intervention to the medical follow-up appointment at the hospital. The patients underwent six one-hour meetings with a trained nurse. The meeting focused on both the psychosocial and physical symptoms and how to deal with them. If necessary, the patients were given extra exercises or referred further.
The study showed that the intervention is effective in reducing depressive symptoms and improving quality of life. Patients with an increased level of depressive symptoms at the start of the study benefited most from the intervention. The meetings and small interventions were appreciated most. Ingeborg adds, “The patients enjoyed having the opportunity to talk about their situation.”
Ways in which to further integrate NUCAI are currently being explored.
The study was conducted in the outpatient clinics of the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Ear, Nose and Throat Departments in collaboration with the Julius Center at UMC Utrecht.