Developing a Health Communication Intervention to Meet the Psychosocial Needs of Young Women Living With Breast Cancer

A cross-campus collaboration involving the Moody College of Communication and the Dell Medical School helps UT Health Austin clinicians identify and bridge gaps in clinical care

Reviewed by: Ray Evans, Executive Director of the Breast Cancer Resource Center, Tara Kaufmann, MD, MSCE, Elizabeth Kvale, MD, MSPH, Rebecca Muñoz, Patient Advocate, and Kate Pounders, PhD
Written by: Ashley Lawrence

Young woman with breast cancer

In 2014, the Moody College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin established the Center for Health Communication (CHC), bringing together researchers and other experts involved in health communication to create one organizational unit in which collaboration, shared ideas and innovations, and the advancement of scholarship could leave a lasting impact on the health community. As of April 2017, the CHC has become a joint academic center, involving both the Moody College of Communication and the Dell Medical School in an effort to advance the health and well-being of people and populations through evidence-based communication.

Established in 2017, the CHC launched the Communication for Health, Empathy, and Resilience (CHER) grant program to further promote collaboration between the faculty of the Moody College of Communication and the Dell Medical School by sharing in evidence-based health communication scholarship, education, and community involvement endeavors that address real-would health communication challenges. CHER grants are awarded to teams of faculty and students interested in conducting pilot projects that investigate key role of communication in promoting wellness, creating a culture of empathy among healthcare providers, and enabling people to resist and recover from illness or injury.

One of the two 2020-2021 CHER grants was awarded to Kate Pounders, PhD (Principal Investigator), Tara, Kaufmann, MD, MSCE (Co-Investigator), and Elizabeth Kvale, MD, MSPH (Co-Investigator), for a research study titled “Developing a Health Communication Intervention to Meet the Psychosocial Needs of Young Women Living With Breast Cancer.” This community-based research study will be carried out in partnership with the Breast Cancer Resource Center (BCRC), a nonprofit organization that provides patient navigation and support services to Central Texans with breast cancer. The BCRC has offered programming specific to young women with breast cancer since 2006.

Dr. Pounders is an associate professor in the Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations at The University of Texas at Austin. Her research examines consumer psychology in the domains of health communication and well-being, often focusing specifically on issues related to identity and message strategy. She has worked with young women diagnosed with breast cancer in the past to better understand issues and needs related to gender identity and found that psychosocial needs were not only at the forefront of women’s concerns, but also largely unmet. The 2020-2021 CHER grant will extend this work.

“Our goal is to create a health communication intervention that will not only meet the needs of young women with breast cancer, but also help better educate all members involved in cancer care,” says Dr. Pounders. “We hope to improve the overall delivery of cancer care not just in our community, but also beyond the reaches of Central Texas.”

Dr. Kaufmann is an assistant professor in the Dell Medical School Department of Oncology and a courtesy assistant professor in the Dell Medical Department of Internal Medicine. She is also a board-certified medical oncologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with breast cancer. She recently opened a Breast Cancer specialty within UT Health Austin’s Livestrong Cancer Institutes that provides care for adult patients of all genders with a breast cancer diagnosis, including DCIS, early stage, recurrent, and advanced or metastatic breast cancers, as well as those patients who have inherited gene mutations that confer a high risk of developing a breast cancer, such as BRCA.

“Excellent support services exist in the Austin area for these young women being treated for breast cancer,” says Dr. Kaufmann, “However, a gap exists in which these resources aren’t made available to patients when they need them. We hope this project will help us develop a strategy to make women and their providers aware of supportive resources and effectively deliver those resources at the right time.”

Dr. Kvale is an associate professor in the Dell Medical School Department of Internal Medicine, a courtesy associate professor in the Dell Medical School Department of Population Health, and a courtesy associate professor in the Dell Medical School Department of Oncology. She serves as the Program Leader of Survivorship and Supportive Care for the Dell Medical School Livestrong Cancer Institutes. She is also a board-certified family medicine specialist and serves as the Survivorship Medical Director of UT Health Austin’s Livestrong Cancer Institutes.

“As a survivorship care doctor, one of my challenges is putting support in the hands of patients when and where they need it, especially for young patients who are busy re-engaging with life and are likely to seek support outside the formal health system,” says Dr. Kvale. “This project is exciting because it is designed to provide us with evidence-based strategies that will also help us do a better job of providing survivorship care in a way that is acceptable to our patients.”

Rebecca Muñoz, a collaborator and patient advocate on the 2020-2021 CHER grant team, is a breast cancer survivor and an active participant in the Livestrong Cancer Institute’s Young Adult Cancer Program and serves on the Livestrong Cancer Institutes’ Young Adult Advisory Board. She also served as a special programs and projects intern for UT Health Austin’s Livestrong Cancer Institutes while pursuing her Master’s in Public Health (MPH) Degree, of which she graduated with in Spring 2021, and manages a self-funded Chemotherapy Cold Cappers Facebook support group that has reached over 2,300 members.

“Rebecca graciously provided insight about her own lived experience as a young adult diagnosed with breast cancer, which was in line with the target demographic for our CHER grant proposal. Her experience as a young adult breast cancer survivor, role on the Livestrong Cancer Institute’s Young Adult Advisory Board, and pursuit of her MPH provides an essential perspective for the design and execution of this research project,” explains Dr. Pounders.

Rebecca’s experience has brought attention to the gaps in support for young adults battling cancer and since joining the Livestrong Cancer Institutes team, she has become fully immersed in cancer patient advocacy.

“I’m thrilled to be involved with this project as a newly minted MPH who is seeking further community-based project experience as well as the ability to continue working with such a great forward-thinking organization,” says Rebecca. “Through my involvement with the project, I hope to contribute my insight both as a public health expert and someone that is highly active in the advocacy space for both breast cancer and young women’s health.”

Find out more about how Rebecca’s journey with breast cancer led to her passion for patient advocacy and has helped inspire change in the cancer community.

<br>“It was Rebecca who suggested connecting with the BCRC, which is located here in Austin, as a community partner for our study as they have one of the largest bases of young adult breast cancer patients and survivors,” explains Dr. Kaufmann.

In 2020, the BCRC partnered with The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing to conduct a community-based needs assessment. Surveys were distributed across the state of Texas to healthcare providers caring for women with breast cancer and to women with breast or metastatic breast cancer. 126 surveys were completed by women with breast cancer, 63 of which were women diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 45. The survey study found that young women diagnosed with breast cancer are at significant risk for unmet emotional and psychosocial needs and often experience long-term difficulties with emotional and social functioning.

Concerns of young women living with breast cancer include:

  • Body image
  • Disruptions in peer and romantic relationships
  • Fertility
  • Financial and occupational/educational difficulties
  • Genetic risk
  • Long-term effects
  • Sexuality
  • Reconstruction surgery
  • Risk of death
  • Treatment decisions

Inspired by these findings, the 2020-2021 CHER grant team has partnered with the BCRC to address the results of this survey using the funding provided by the 2020-2021 CHER grant. The proposed research project will determine how to address the unmet needs of women being treated for breast cancer in central Texas and beyond.

“At the Livestrong Institutes, we call our approach to cancer care CaLM (Cancer Life reiMagined). The CaLM model of whole-person care provides wraparound services for patients, including social, emotional, and mental health support, palliative care and symptom management, access navigation and care coordination, nutritional support, fertility preservation, and more. The CaLM care team works closely with patients to minimize the stress and potential chaos of a cancer diagnosis by delivering and coordinating the services and resources they may need. The results of this project will not only help inform cancer care within the Breast Cancer specialty but across all specialties—Gastrointestinal Cancer, Gynecologic Cancer, and Hematologic Malignancies—within the Livestrong Cancer Institutes,” says Dr. Kaufmann.

For more information about the Breast Cancer specialty within the Livestrong Cancer Institutes or to request an appointment, please call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or visit here.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.