Mental health research - 2019 highlights

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Dr Lesley Stafford
Dr Lesley Stafford

Helping parents with cancer communicate with their children 

Lead researcher: Associate Professor Lesley Stafford 

A parent being diagnosed with cancer can understandably cause high levels of distress and their children may experience adverse psychosocial outcomes. 

A new clinical tool aims to support positive communication in families through their cancer journey. 

“Many parents worry about meeting their children’s needs while managing the demands of their cancer treatment,” said Lead Researcher, Associate Professor Lesley Stafford.

 “We identified a need for practical and evidence-based resources to help parents talk with their young children about everything from diagnosis and treatment to fears about the future.

” Enhancing Parenting in Cancer (EPIC) is a psychoeducational intervention to support adults with cancer who are parenting children aged 3 to 12 years. 

The EPIC study trialled a series of online videos and a question prompt list via pre-and post- intervention questionnaires, a follow-up telephone call and evaluation interview with study participants. 

Early evaluation of EPIC with health professionals (n=16), parents who had completed cancer treatment (n=13), parents who were undergoing treatment (n=12) and/or their co-parents (n=5) found the resources to be relevant, reassuring and useful.  

Parents undergoing treatment reported improved confidence in communicating with their children about their cancer and providing them with emotional support. 

“This novel intervention is a sustainable resource that addresses an unmet clinical need, and is well suited for adoption into routine care,” A/Prof Stafford said.

Understanding the impact of ovarian cancer on body image and sexual health

Lead researcher: Associate Professor Lesley Stafford  

The Women’s has joined forces with Ovarian Cancer Australia for a study that aims to improve understanding of women’s psychological and sexual needs during and after ovarian cancer treatment. 

Lead Researcher, Associate Professor Lesley Stafford said it was one of the first studies to specifically explore sexual and body image issues among women with ovarian cancer. 

“With the vague symptoms that come with ovarian cancer, it is often diagnosed late in the cancer’s development and the prognosis is poor. Traditionally, the emphasis has been on controlling the disease rather than necessarily optimising the quality of life and, as a result, research in this area has been neglected,” she said. 

The study will recruit 130 women affected by ovarian cancer and ask them about their personal experiences of sexuality, body image, sexual function, femininity and mental health. 

“After treatment, sexual issues are a common concern for cancer patients, but information and advice are often not provided in the course of diagnosis and treatment. This unmet need during cancer rehabilitation could have a serious impact on a woman’s quality of life,” A/Prof Stafford said. 

“This study will help develop appropriate information resources for women affected by ovarian cancer and their partners, and allow health professionals to develop better psychological supports for sexuality and body image problems that occur after ovarian cancer.”