Guided imagery for treatment (GIFT): protocol of a pilot trial of guided imagery versus treatment as usual to address radiotherapy-related distress in head and neck cancer

Pilot Feasibility Stud. 2022 Sep 5;8(1):199. doi: 10.1186/s40814-022-01134-9.


Background: Cancers of the head and neck region are associated with high symptom burden and elevated levels of psychological distress. Radiotherapy (RT) is a common treatment for patients with head and neck cancer (HNC) that is associated with psychological distress related to the immobilizing nature of the treatment, frequency of treatment delivery, and side effects. Guided imagery is a relaxation technique that is beneficial in reducing psychological distress in patients with other cancer diagnoses but has not been studied in this patient population. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of a brief guided imagery intervention (guided imagery for treatment, GIFT) to reduce RT-related anxiety and depression in patients with HNC relative to treatment as usual (TAU).

Methods: Patients with HNC planning to receive RT will be recruited to participate in a randomized controlled trial evaluating a brief, two-session guided imagery intervention (GIFT) relative to TAU alone. Primary aims include acceptability and feasibility evaluated through quantitative and qualitative methods. Measures of anxiety and depression, symptom burden, health-related quality of life, and anxiolytic medication use will be collected at baseline, during treatment, and at 1-month follow-up.

Discussion: There are no published interventions of guided imagery for anxiety and depression in patients with HNC despite its efficacy in other populations of patients with cancer. This proposed project evaluates the feasibility and acceptability of an intervention that has the potential to reduce psychological distress in a vulnerable population. Additionally, we will preliminarily examine the impact of behavioral intervention on psychological distress and the use of anxiolytic medication, a novel area of study.

Trial registration: NCT03662698 ; registered on 9/6/2018.

Keywords: Cancer; Cancer-related distress; Distress; Guided imagery; Head and neck cancer; Oncology; RCT; Radiotherapy (RT).

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