The purpose of this pilot study was to gauge feasibility of incorporating the Pathfinders program into cancer care at Duke, and to estimate efficacy and impact of Pathfinders on self-reported measures like psychological distress and quality of life (QOL).
Methods: This prospective, single-arm, pilot study enrolled adult metastatic breast cancer patients with prognosis ≥6 months. Consenting participants met with trained master's level social workers (i.e., Pathfinders) at least monthly for 6 months. At baseline, month 3 and month 6, patients completed surveys including the Patient Care Monitor (PCM; a review of systems with 6 subscales and a global QOL score), and Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy - Fatigue subscale (FACIT-F).
Results: Participants (n=50) were: mean age 51.2 years (SD 11.5); 24% non-white; 74% married; 50% did not complete college; the cohort had advanced cancer and short prognosis with 6-month attrition from death, 18%. Scores on the PCM Distress subscale improved from baseline to 3 months with a mean change of -3.42 (n=36; p=0.008) and from baseline to 6 months of -4.11 (n=28; p=0.002). PCM Despair subscale scores also improved: mean change of -4.53 (p=0.006) and -6.93 (p=0.016), respectively. PCM QOL and FACIT-F scores improved from baseline to 3 months; the change at 6 months, with smaller sample, was not statistically significant. Mean change in QOL from baseline to 3 and 6 months was 2.88 (n=30; p=0.006) and 2.66 (n=25; p=0.079), respectively. Mean change in FACIT-F from baseline to 3 and 6 months was 2.91 (n=39; p=0.020) and 1.29 (n=32; p=0.407), respectively.
Conclusions and implications: Pathfinders had significant positive effect on key psychosocial and QOL outcomes, notably distress and despair, for cancer patients despite advanced disease and worsening symptoms. Plans are in place (in 2009) to proceed with a registry study (n=200) as the backdrop to a larger, prospective, randomized controlled trial, if results prove favorable.