Background: Today, the 5-year relative survival rate for cancer is 65% and there are 10.5 million survivors. The largest group of survivors are those of breast cancer. Reductions in mortality are occurring at a greater rate for women under age 50 at diagnosis than among older women.
Aims: Our goal was to design a socio-educational intervention for 5-year survivors aged 50 or younger at diagnosis and test the hypotheses that women in the intervention group would show greater improvement than controls with respect to (1) knowledge of breast cancer, its treatment, and long-term health concerns; (2) lifestyle habits (i.e., exercise and diet); and (3) communication with family and physicians.
Methods: Using a randomized controlled trial with a pre-post design, 404 women who were 5 years from diagnosis and cancer-free (response rate 54%) were randomly assigned to an intervention or delayed intervention (control) group and were assessed at pre-test (baseline) and 6 months later (96% retention). The intervention consisted of three 6-h workshops over a 3 month period. Four series of workshops were held at different geographical areas in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. The workshops included activities and information to promote physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The intervention design was based on findings from focus groups and a survey of 185 cancer-free 5-year survivors that assessed changes since the early months after diagnosis in physical, social, emotional, and spiritual concerns (response rate 73%).
Results: Consistent with our first hypothesis, at post-test, women in the intervention group, on average, had greater knowledge regarding breast cancer, its treatment, and their own future health than did those in the control group (p = 0.015). Hypothesis 2 was partially supported as women in the intervention group were more likely than the control group to report an increased amount of physical activity (p = 0.036), but not significant dietary changes. Social support was related to increased self report of physical activity. With the exception of the last series of workshops, the intervention group did not report improved communications with family, friends, and physicians (hypothesis 3).
Conclusions: A short-term intervention can affect knowledge levels and physical activity but not diet or communication in the family.
Implications for cancer survivors: The intervention was related to greater knowledge related to breast cancer, and increased report of physical activity. The program was not related to changes in reported diet or family communication.