Every 30 seconds someone in the United States is diagnosed with cancer, thus altering the lives of countless Americans and their loved ones. Even after successful treatment, many survivors struggle with physical and mental challenges, such as persistent symptoms and financial burdens, often years into survivorship.
Cancer survivors who have completed primary cancer treatment may soon have part of this burden lifted through participation in an innovative study championed by teams across the nation, including the University of Florida.
UF College of Nursing Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Debra Lynch Kelly, PhD, RN, OCN, CNE, FAAN, and Chamings Professor and Assistant Dean for Research Development Angela Starkweather, PhD, ACNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN, recently launched a partnership with Pack Health, a health coaching platform with a focus on chronic conditions, to study how weekly digital coaching sessions can improve health outcomes for individuals who have completed their initial cancer treatment.
Titled “Comprehensive Outcomes for After Cancer Health,” or COACH, this study is one of the first to investigate the impact of digital health coaching on cancer survivors’ well-being and nonclinical needs. With its participation, UF joins a select group of six preeminent health care centers and academic units that all serve as study recruitment centers for this nationwide research initiative.
Over the course of one year, participants will receive six months of health coaching from Pack Health ‘health advisors,’ either immediately after joining the study or following a six-month delay. Each health advisor is specifically trained to help patients set individual goals and find resources to encourage positive behavior changes that are specific to each survivor.
Cancer survivors enrolled in the study will also receive a wearable activity tracker to collect data about their exercise and sleep habits. Self-reported information about their mental health, financial situation and quality of life will be documented throughout the study and used to examine associations and changes over time in these salient factors contributing to cancer survivorship.
Study researchers have a gut feeling about how cancer survivors’ health can be affected by other factors. The ‘gut microbiome,’ organisms living in the gastrointestinal tract where a balance of
helpful bacteria contribute to health and protect against illness, will be measured and correlated with reported levels of physical activity, as well as symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, depression and pain.
Both Lynch Kelly and Starkweather hope to find the intersectionality among these factors to determine if a cancer survivor’s gut health may be evaluated as an early warning sign of changes in health outcomes. Lynch Kelly and Starkweather will serve as multiple principal investigators on this clinical trial and will oversee participant recruitment, as well as observe how cancer survivors report their posttreatment experiences both with and without digital coaching.
“Ultimately, information from this groundbreaking study can pave the way for innovative therapies that may reduce symptom burden and improve quality of life for cancer survivors,” Lynch Kelly said. “It is an honor and a privilege to be part of this discovery and to work with this amazing team while partnering with cancer survivors across multiple cancer populations to improve the health of our communities.”