Behavioral Science Research

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Behavioral Science Research at Fox Chase Cancer Center

Psychosocial and behavioral factors play a critical role in cancer prevention and care. For example, promoting appropriate lifestyle choices can reduce cancer risk. And increasing adherence to early detection guidelines, treatment regimens, and follow-up care recommendations can reduce morbidity and mortality. Our investigators conduct cross-cutting research to further our understanding of the role that psychosocial and behavioral factors play across the cancer continuum, which will facilitate the development of psychosocial and behavioral interventions that optimize cancer prevention and treatment outcomes.

Our research focuses on five major areas:

Disease Prevention

Lifestyle factors account for a substantial proportion of the population's cancer burden. Promoting and facilitating the adoption of behaviors that lower cancer risk is the key strategy for reducing the incidence of cancer. Our disease prevention research initiatives include smoking cessation, exercise and diet management, and HPV vaccination uptake.

Screening for Early Detection

Screening serves to identify asymptomatic individuals who are likely to have either precancerous lesions or early stage cancer. Those who screen positive are triaged for diagnostic workup. Treatment is then instituted as appropriate to either forestall the development of cancer or treat it at an early stage. Screening regimens have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing mortality and morbidity from breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers. Our research addresses the development and evaluation of interventions to promote the uptake and maintenance of such regimens.

Risk Communication

Providing appropriate and understandable information to patients about their cancer risk is a mainstay of efforts to motivate health-protective behavior, enhance adherence to cancer screening and surveillance recommendations, and support informed decision making. As such, we are interested in understanding the impact of cancer risk on patients and their family members. Further, the role of risk communication in cancer prevention and care has become increasingly more important with the advent of recent advances in genetics. Genetic discoveries have ushered in an era of unprecedented biomedical capabilities in estimating risks for a spectrum of diseases, including some of the most prevalent forms of cancer. However, the application of genetic information based on risk assessment often requires decisions for which there is limited precedent and preparation. In many cases, genetic discoveries have preceded by many years the basic evidence-based knowledge needed for clinical applications. This time lag creates an important void in which detection of genetic abnormalities is increasingly possible, understanding is limited, and the efficacy of risk reduction or prevention options is unclear. Our research addresses a range of these risk-related issues.

Treatment and Disease Management

A cancer patient is often confronted with several treatment options, any of which could be viewed as medically appropriate depending on how their respective advantages and disadvantages are weighed. A prime goal of psychosocial interventions for such patients is to support informed decision making about treatment choice. The role of the patient in such decisions has changed dramatically, and thus there is much to learn regarding patient preferences in treatment decision making and how to provide complex treatment information in understandable ways. Cancer patients must also deal with the challenges of the physical and psychological distress created by cancer symptomatology and treatment side effects. In particular, we are interested in social-environmental influences that affect how individuals and their family members cope with cancer. Psychosocial interventions are designed to assist such patients in adaptively meeting such challenges in order to enhance their quality of life. Our research addresses a cross-section of these issues.

Cancer Survivorship

Ten million Americans currently live with a personal history of cancer. As recommended in the recently published Institute of Medicine report, Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs, "cancer survivors" are now recognized as requiring focused and coordinated psychosocial services to meet their specialized needs. Needed services include facilitating the adoption of behavioral strategies to lower risk for recurrent and new cancers; supporting the survivor in dealing psychologically with the need for ongoing medical and personal surveillance for the spread of cancer, its recurrence, and second cancers; providing psychosocial support to the survivor in dealing with the adverse medical and psychosocial late effects of cancer and its treatment; and assisting survivors in meeting the challenges of navigating the complex treatment and disease-management information needed to facilitate informed decision-making across the survivorship trajectory. Cancer survivors represent a constituency whose needs and concerns are not being adequately met by traditional cancer care and service programs. Our research aims to contribute to filling the many gaps in the psychosocial and behavioral research literature on survivorship, thereby providing a better evidence base for improving systems of care for this expanding segment of the population of cancer patients.