A pilot study of mobilized intervention to help caregivers of oncology patients manage distress

Psychooncology. 2021 Apr;30(4):520-528. doi: 10.1002/pon.5597. Epub 2020 Dec 2.


Objective: Caregivers of patients with advanced cancer experience significant anxiety, depression, and distress. Caregivers have barriers to accessing in-person treatment to manage stress. Technology allows for the dissemination of evidence-based interventions in a convenient way. This study examined usage rates of Pep-Pal (an evidence-based mobilized intervention to help caregivers of patients with advanced cancer manage distress) and estimates of efficacy on anxiety, depression, stress, and sexual dysfunction.

Methods: Fifty-six primary caregivers of patients with advanced cancer were recruited through oncology clinics and randomized to either Pep-Pal (a mobilized psychoeducation and skills-based intervention for caregivers, n = 26) or treatment as usual (TAU; n = 30). All were screened for moderate anxiety on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale-Anxiety screening assessment (A ≥ 8) at baseline.

Results: Participants randomized to Pep-Pal experienced greater reductions in perceived stress (PSS; F = 3.91, p = .05), greater increases in ability to learn and use stress management skills (F = 6.16, p = 0.01), and greater increases in sexual function (women only; F = 5.07, p = 0.03) compared to participants in TAU. Of Pep-Pal participants, only 10 (38.5%) watched at least 7/9 full-length sessions. The a priori hypothesis and criterion that participants would watch at least 75% full-length sessions were not met.

Conclusions: A brief, easily disseminated mobile intervention showed poor adherence, but had limited estimates of efficacy for secondary outcomes; perceived stress, learning stress management skills, and sexual functioning (women only). Future directions are discussed.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03002896.

Keywords: BMT; adult; anxiety; cancer; caregivers; depression; eHealth; internet-based intervention; psycho-oncology; telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers*
  • Depression / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Pilot Projects
  • Quality of Life

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03002896