From the Journals

Fear of recurrence highly prevalent in RCC survivors



Many survivors of localized renal cell carcinoma (RCC) experience fear of cancer recurrence (FCR), according to a survey.

About 55% of survivors surveyed expressed this fear, which is higher than the average prevalence among patients diagnosed with other cancers.

Younger and female RCC survivors appear to be at particular risk, but disease stage and time since diagnosis are not associated with FCR, according to the survey.

The results were published in JCO Oncology Practice.

The majority of existing studies concerning FCR have been of survivors of breast, prostate, and gynecologic cancers. For the first time, researchers examined this issue in RCC survivors in a large trial.

More than 1,000 survivors of localized RCC were asked to participate in a survey through social media by the Kidney Cancer Research Alliance.

A total of 412 survivors were included in the analysis. They had a median age of 54 years (range, 30-80 years), were mostly female (79.4%), were mostly well educated (58.3%), and had a median of 17.5 months’ time since diagnosis.

More than half of patients were diagnosed with stage I disease, and about two-thirds had a clear understanding of their diagnosis.

Results: FCR persists in RCC

Two-thirds of the survivors had a high prevalence of moderate to severe distress, and 54.9% reported FCR.

“This is the first study to assess fear of cancer recurrence in RCC,” said lead study author Cristiane Decat Bergerot, PhD, who conducted the research during a fellowship at City of Hope in Duarte, Calif. She is now director of the department of psycho-oncology at CETTRO Cancer Research Hospital in Brasilia, Brazil.

“RCC patients really experience this emotion,” Dr. Bergerot said. “Other emotional symptoms, even stress, tend to lower over time. This does not happen with FCR in RCC patients. More than 3 years later, they still had the same prevalence of FCR.”

The prevalence of FCR was not associated with race, education level, country, residential area, cancer care facility type, travel time to hospital, or clinical characteristics such as disease stage and time since diagnosis.

However, higher FCR was associated with female gender, younger age, and lack of understanding of diagnosis. For younger and female patients, the social and emotional consequences of RCC may make it hard for them to keep up with daily activities. Younger patients may have multiple social roles and responsibilities, and an RCC diagnosis interrupts their life.

Even though RCC is more prevalent in males, “females traditionally have no fear of saying they are not doing well with diagnosis or treatment. Women appear to be more open to support,” Dr. Bergerot said.

Interventions and support

Psychosocial support with targeted interventions can help address FCR for RCC patients, according to Dr. Bergerot. For example, researchers are developing an app to allow for psychosocial intervention at home to help patients cope with FCR, she said, noting that clinicians in cancer centers more often see metastatic disease, not localized disease.

“Clinicians can teach patients to be more comfortable and feel less anxious about their prognosis and also help them participate in treatment decision-making,” Dr. Bergerot said. “When a RCC patient worries too much about cancer recurrence, refer the patient to a psychosocial team. The patient can receive practical advice to balance emotional symptoms, learn more about their current situation, and find more information through cancer support groups.”

“FCR is a key factor underlying emotional and behavioral difficulties faced by survivors of cancer,” said Daniel L. Hall, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, who was not involved in this study. “Clinicians treating cancer survivors are well positioned to assess and intervene on FCR, distress, and health behaviors.”

Dr. Hall noted that these fears are a near-ubiquitous concern for cancer survivors.

“Inherently, managing FCR requires acknowledging and facing the uncertainty about one’s future health, which, of course, for all of us is unpredictable, ambiguous, and ever-changing. Although many patients who fear recurrence are fortunate to have a low objective risk of recurrence, I believe patients facing cancer, regardless of demographic or medical characteristics, can feel afraid when facing an unknown, possibly dangerous future,” Dr. Hall said.

Calls for interventions targeting FCR have emphasized the need for evidence-based treatments and multimodal interventions that teach a variety of targeted skills. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mind-body interventions are being studied to address FCR.

“Our team conducted a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials of these interventions and found that pooled effects were significant, yet small, suggesting the need for further intervention development,” Dr. Hall said. “Through funding from the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, we are currently evaluating a multimodal, group-based intervention that integrates many of the most effective FCR management skills: CBT, mindfulness meditation, relaxation response training, and positive psychology.”

Harvard researchers recently published encouraging results from a small pilot study of a group intervention. The next step is to test a remote, synchronous program in a randomized trial, with recruitment anticipated in early 2021.

“In addition to our work, other groups are developing asynchronous interventions that cancer survivors can use by accessing a website, which may appeal to survivors looking for information quickly or who may not be interested in participating in a group intervention,” Dr. Hall said.

The current study did not receive specific funding. The authors disclosed relationships with many companies, which can be found in the paper. Dr. Hall has no disclosures.

SOURCE: Bergerot CD et al. JCO Oncol Pract. 2020 Nov;16(11):e1264-71.

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