Developing sustainable patient and public involvement in mesothelioma research: multi-method exploration with researchers, patients, carers, and patient organisations

Res Involv Engagem. 2023 Mar 25;9(1):15. doi: 10.1186/s40900-023-00426-5.


Background: Rare diseases where prognosis is poor provide limited scope for patient and public involvement (PPI). One such disease is mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung pleura or of the peritoneum caused by exposure to asbestos, where PPI is poorly documented. We undertook to explore how PPI could be facilitated in mesothelioma research.

Methods: An online survey with mesothelioma researchers (n = 23) assessed the perceived benefits and challenges of PPI in mesothelioma. Six online workshops and thirteen in-depth interviews with patients and the public explored their views on how PPI could be increased in mesothelioma and their motivations to become PPI representatives in the future. The survey data were analysed using descriptive statistics and the interviews, using Thematic Analysis.

Results: In the survey, 26% (n = 6) of the researchers did not include PPI in their research, while 74% (n = 17) did, finding it most beneficial at the stages of applying for funding and dissemination. The main perceived benefits of PPI were clarifying the research question and outcome measures, making research more credible and relevant to patients' needs, and increasing its impact. The main perceived challenges to PPI were the general poor prognosis in mesothelioma, and funding timescales which hindered timely recruitment of PPI representatives. The analysis of the interviews with the patients and public revealed three main themes: "Motivations to become a PPI representative in the future", "Understanding the nature of PPI during the project", and "Perceived challenges to PPI in mesothelioma". Altruism and the need for hope were the main reasons to wish to become involved in PPI in the future. For many participants, the project proved to be a journey of understanding the nature of PPI, a concept that was not easy to grasp from the start. The participants perceived certain barriers to PPI such as high symptom burden in mesothelioma, the abstract concept of PPI, and the use of scientific language.

Conclusions: The present research provides a detailed picture of the benefits and challenges of PPI in mesothelioma. We recommend long-term engagement with mesothelioma support groups so that researchers achieve meaningful and sustainable PPI in mesothelioma research.

Keywords: Cancer; Mesothelioma; Patient and public involvement; Qualitative.

Plain language summary

Patient and public involvement (PPI) in research means research that is done ‘with’ or ‘by’ the public, not ‘to’, ‘about’, or ‘for’ them. Involving patients, family caregivers or the public (e.g. coordinators of patient organisations) in research activities means that they contribute to how research is designed, conducted, or disseminated. However, some diseases where patients have a short prognosis after diagnosis make it harder for patients or their family members to get involved. In this project we explored the perspectives of patients, public, and researchers on how PPI could be increased and maintained in research on mesothelioma—a rare cancer of the lining of the lung or of the peritoneum caused by exposure to asbestos. We conducted an online survey with mesothelioma researchers, and they indicated a number of PPI benefits but also challenges such as finding people living with mesothelioma well enough to participate. We also conducted six online workshops and thirteen interviews with patients, family members and coordinators of mesothelioma patient organisations—these were not PPI representatives but participants in research. All participants in the project were motivated by the wish to enhance outcomes for other patients. Their understanding of PPI improved during the project and they saw a number of challenges to others becoming involved in PPI, such as its abstract nature and the use of scientific language. We recommend that researchers engage long-term with mesothelioma support groups so that they have opportunities to explain what PPI means and involve people affected by mesothelioma in research.