Researchers to Examine Connection between Cancer Patients and Their Caregivers’ Health

An understanding of the connection between cancer patients and their caregiver’s health in relation to mutual stress regulatory patterns is what Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and University of Miami researchers hope to gain with the assistance of a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“The research will study and find answers to why cancer patients and their family members’ health deteriorates both psychologically and biologically,” said Youngmee Kim, Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Psychology Department and lead researcher of the study. “Currently, research is fragmented, focusing on how the patient handles stress and how it affects their recovery. Yet, cancer caregivers also report high levels of anxiety and depression, sometimes at higher levels than the cancer patient, and their health is compromised by their elevated stress.”

With the results, researchers hope to develop interventions to help cancer patients and caregivers find ways to curb adverse effects of stress and promote better health by using positive coregulation mechanisms. Other investigators in the interdisciplinary study are Armando Mendez, Ph.D., research associate professor, and Laurence R. Sands, M.D., M.B.A., professor and Chief of the Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery, from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Charles S. Carver, Ph.D., and Barry Hurwitz, Ph.D., also professors in the Psychology Department, and David Spiegel, M.D., and Jamie Zeitzer, Ph.D., from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The researchers will study the stress regulation patterns between cancer patients and their caregivers, including coregulation (regulating the stress to mutually calm each other’s stress reactions and reduce negative affect and physiological arousal) and coagitation (mutual regulation increasing such reactions).

The coregulation and coagitation will be quantified by evaluating cardiovascular variability, neuroendocrine (saliva), and self-reported affective reactivity and regulation in response to a stress situation that is relevant both to health and to close relationships. Testing will also include how daily health, such as sleep and mood, as well as longer-term health, such as depression and cardiovascular health of both the cancer patient and caregiver, are affected.

“Findings of this project will help develop novel interventions pertaining to effective and mutual management of stress in daily life and dyadic influences on health promotion,” added Kim.

Over a three-year period, the researchers plan to gather data from 172 colorectal cancer patients (86 female, 86 male) and their caregivers. Kim hopes to recruit patients living in South Florida.

“Colorectal cancer affects both genders, so we hope to investigate the role of gender in mutual stress regulatory patterns and their health outcomes by studying colorectal cancer patients and their heterosexual partners,” said Kim.

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