17 June 2024

US cancer specialists have unveiled a “promising” new approach to reducing distress and fatigue among blood cancer patients who have undergone haematopoietic stem cell transplants.

The nine-week psychology programme, called PATH, involves exercises focusing on areas such as gratitude, meaning and personal strengths. The programme is delivered remotely by phone, with calls kept short (15-20 minutes a week) thanks to an accompanying manual to guide participants through the exercises.

Researchers in Massachusetts, USA, have now reported results from a feasibility study of the programme, compared to usual care. In the study of 70 patients, 91% completed all nine sessions. The intervention began about 100 days after the transplants.

Therapists were trained to ensure that patients were encouraged towards safe activities, avoiding activities such as community service that might increase infection risk.

The researchers say it had “promising” effects on patient reported outcomes but also proved popular and easy to use. The positive effects were still apparent nine weeks after completion of the programme, the researchers report.

They hope PATH will improve physical function and reduce fatigue as well as enhancing quality of life and relieving distress.

The findings have been published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. The researchers say that further, multi-centre studies are needed with a larger and more diverse group of patients.

Lead researcher Dr Hermioni Amonoo, of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said: “Cancer care providers should consider the potential benefits of psychosocial resources and interventions like PATH that focus on enriching positive emotions to bolster their patients’ well-being. While the active identification and treatment of psychological distress, like anxiety, in patients with cancer are crucial, encouraging patients to engage in simple, structured, and systematic exercises aimed at fostering positive thoughts and emotions, such as gratitude, has the potential to enhance well-being as well.”

Commenting on the findings, Dr Jessica Vanderlan, vice chair of the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology Panel for Distress Management, said: “This positive psychology intervention highlights the importance of not only screening for distress but the promise of creating mechanisms that enhance well-being and reduce distress in our patients.

“Development of clinical interventions that are brief and delivered by phone could greatly improve patient access to care. This type of accessibility is important in an oncology population, especially in acute recovery periods with many competing demands and physical symptoms.”


Amonoo HL, Daskalakis E, Wolfe ED, Guo M, Celano CM, Healy BC, Cutler CS, Antin JH, Pirl WF, Park ER, Jim HSL, Lee SJ, LeBlanc TW, El-Jawahri A, Huffman JC. (2024) “A Positive Psychology Intervention in Allogeneic Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation Survivors (PATH): A Pilot Randomized Clinical Trial.” Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, June 2024, doi: 10.6004/jnccn.2023.7117

Link: https://jnccn.org/view/journals/jnccn/22/2D/article-e237117.xml

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