Internet-based support can reduce depressions symptoms in cancer patients


The internet can be used to provide education and support for self-management interventions to alleviate depression symptoms in individuals with cancer. This is shown in a study from Birgitta Johansson’s group at IGP.  

Individuals affected with cancer often experience long-term negative mood symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. The support that they need varies but they often require more extensive support than the support provided in regular health care. In addition, there can be barriers within the individuals which make them reluctant or unable to take part in the support offered, for instance traveling or not wanting to be part of a group.

As a complementary strategy to empower individuals to achieve optimal health during the cancer trajectory, internet-based applications containing education and self-management strategies could be used. Internet-based stepped care may be one way to provide support relevant to individual needs and target more resource-intensive treatments to those with persistent symptoms despite an initial, less resource-intensive support.

“We have evaluated the effect of the internet-based stepped care intervention iCAN-DO on negative mood symptoms, compared with standard care. The participants in the study had recently been diagnosed with cancer and had self-reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. They were then randomly assigned to iCAN-DO or to standard care, says Birgitta Johansson who has led the study.

The first step of iCAN-DO comprised a library containing short psycho-educative lectures about diagnosis, treatment, common symptoms and self-care strategies, a peer support section and an “Ask an Expert” feature. Participants with remaining symptoms of anxiety and/or depression after using step one, were offered 10-week internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy alongside step one.

The results from the study showed that iCAN-DO decreased both the levels of symptoms of depression and the proportion of individuals with symptoms of depression compared with standard care.

“This is the first time that an internet-based stepped care approach has been evaluated in individuals with cancer and concurrent symptoms of anxiety and depression. Our conclusion is that internet can be used for education and support for self-care strategies, to alleviate depression symptoms in cancer patients. Internet thus increases the availability of effective support and contributes to an equal care, says Birgitta Johansson.

The study has been published in the journal Psycho-Oncology and is part of Uppsala University Psychosocial Care Programme (U-CARE). The project has been conducted in collaboration with researchers at the Department of Surgical Sciences at Uppsala University, the Centre for Clinical Research, Västerås, and with departments of oncology, surgery and urology at Uppsala University Hospital, Örebro University Hospital, Gävle and Västerås hospitals

More information:
Paper in Psycho-Oncology
Birgitta Johansson’s research