BACKGROUND: Fear of cancer recurrence, depressive symptoms, and cancer-related fatigue are prevalent symptoms among cancer survivors, adversely affecting patients' quality of life and daily functioning. Effect sizes of interventions targeting these symptoms are mostly small to medium. Personalizing treatment is assumed to improve efficacy. However, thus far the empirical support for this approach is lacking. The aim of this study is to investigate if systematically personalized cognitive behavioral therapy is more efficacious than standard cognitive behavioral therapy in cancer survivors with moderate to severe fear of cancer recurrence, depressive symptoms, and/or cancer-related fatigue.
METHODS: The study is designed as a non-blinded, multicenter randomized controlled trial with two treatment arms (ratio 1:1): (a) systematically personalized cognitive behavioral therapy and (b) standard cognitive behavioral therapy. In the standard treatment arm, patients receive an evidence-based diagnosis-specific treatment protocol for fear of cancer recurrence, depressive symptoms, or cancer-related fatigue. In the second arm, treatment is personalized on four dimensions: (a) the allocation of treatment modules based on ecological momentary assessments, (b) treatment delivery, (c) patients' needs regarding the symptom for which they want to receive treatment, and (d) treatment duration. In total, 190 cancer survivors who experience one or more of the targeted symptoms and ended their medical treatment with curative intent at least 6 months to a maximum of 5 years ago will be included. Primary outcome is limitations in daily functioning. Secondary outcomes are level of fear of cancer recurrence, depressive symptoms, fatigue severity, quality of life, goal attainment, therapist time, and drop-out rates. Participants are assessed at baseline (T0), and after 6 months (T1) and 12 months (T2).
DISCUSSION: To our knowledge, this is the first randomized controlled trial comparing the efficacy of personalized cognitive behavioral therapy to standard cognitive behavioral therapy in cancer survivors. The study has several innovative characteristics, among which is the personalization of interventions on several dimensions. If proven effective, the results of this study provide a first step in developing an evidence-based framework for personalizing therapies in a systematic and replicable way.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: The Dutch Trial Register (NTR) NL7481 (NTR7723). Registered on 24 January 2019.