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Our Research group aims to explore how we can better meet the psychological and supportive care needs of those affected by cancer, including patients, their families, and their healthcare providers.  We are especially interested in developing evidence-based psychological interventions that can be put into place (either in the hospital setting, through charities, or for patients to access from their own homes) to reduce distress and poor quality of life through cancer treatment and survivorship.

Psychosocial Oncology Research Group 2016

Meet our team

Lab Co-ordinator: Nick Hulbert-Williams, Professor of Behavioural Medicine
Ros Bramwell, Professor
Sam Flynn, PhD student
Kevin Hochard, Lecturer
Will Kent, PhD Student
Carey MacDonald-Smith, Honorary Research Associate
Rhian McHugh, Technician & PhD Student
Brooke Swash, Lecturer

Some of our current projects

Transition after cancer: component mapping and intervention planning using contextual behavioural science (PI: Nick Hulbert-Williams). The period of end of treatment transition is psychologically stressful for cancer survivors; our previous research demonstrates that patients feel isolated and abandoned at this time, and risk of psychological disorders, for example anxiety and depression continues into survivorship. Current evidence for the effectiveness of psychological interventions is, however, poor. In this study we are recruiting a cohort of cancer survivors at the end of treatment from three countries: the UK, Canada and Australia. We will collect data from them, using questionnaires, over a two year period. The measurement tools that we are using will help us to establish the kinds of psychological techniques that may help cancer survivors to return to a values-led and meaningful life after their treatment has finished, and at what time these should best be delivered.

Developing a novel neuropsychological test battery for us with oncology patients: a feasibility study (PI: Rhian McHugh). Up to 50% of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment are reported to experience detrimental changes in their ability to maintain attention, recall and process information: this is known as cancer related cognitive dysfunction (CRCD). This can have highly distressing consequences for cancer survivors.  Measures to assess CRCD are time consuming and this is a barrier to their routine use in the clinical setting.We have developed a new battery of tests of cognitive ability  which we believe can be administered in less than thirty minutes. In this study we are recruiting patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment for lung or ovarian cancer. Participants will undergo testing using this new battery at three time points through treatment.  We will collect both quantitative and qualitative data to access feasibility and acceptability of using the tool in our future psychological intervention trials.

Cancer care experiences in gay, lesbian and bisexual patients: An analysis of the UK Patient Experience Survey (PI: Nick Hulbert-Williams).   There has been a recent trend to better understand  how population diversity can affect the patient -reported experience of cancer treatment and care. We know, for example, that inequality is reported based on age, gender and ethnicity. Little is known, however about the impact of sexual identity on cancer care experiences. An annual survey administered nationally collects patient experience data from everyone treated for cancer in the UK. In 2013, 68, 737 patients completed the survey. We are currently undertaking a detailed statistical analysis of these data to establish whether the experiences reported by gay, lesbian or bisexual cancer patients significantly differs from those reported by heterosexual cancer patients. This analysis will establish whether inequality based on sexual identity exists in UK cancer care, and will have important implications for service delivery and the development of psychosocial supportive care interventions.

A comprehensive systematic review of insomnia interventions for people being treated for curable cancer (PI: Kevin Hochard). With a global trend towards increasing survival over time, more people are living with problematic side and late effects of cancer treatment.  Insomnia—a persistent difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep—has high prevalence in this group. We are currently undertaking a comprehensive review of published psychosocial oncology literature which report on the effectiveness of psychological and/or behavioural interventions targeting insomnia. Our systematic literature searches have identified 21 studies which test such interventions. Most common are those using cognitive behavioural or mindfulness-based interventions. Although improvements in sleep quality are reported, effect sizes are moderate at best. We are currently using our literature review to plan a research programme to develop and test more clinical- and cost-effective interventions for this problematic issue.

Recent publications

Wakefield C, Butow P, Aaronson N, Hack T, Hulbert-Williams N & Jacobsen P, on behalf of the IPOS Research Committee (2015). Patient-reported depression measures in cancer: A meta-review.  Lancet Psychiatry, 2(7), 635-647. DOI:

Wright C, Harvie M, Howell A, Evans G, Hulbert-Williams N & Donnelly L (2015). Beliefs about weight and breast cancer: An interview study with high risk women following a 12 month weight loss intervention. Hereditary Cancer in Clinical Practice, 13(1).  DOI: 10.1186/s13053-014-0023-9

Flynn S, Hulbert-Williams L, Bramwell R, Stevens-Gill D & Hulbert-Williams N (2015).  Caring for cancer patients with an intellectual disability: attitudes and care perceptions of UK oncology nurses.  European Journal of Oncology Nursing, e-publication ahead of print.  DOI: 10.1016/j.ejon.015.03.002

Hulbert-Williams N, Storey L & Wilson K (2014).   Psychological interventions for patients with cancer:  Psychological flexibility and the potential utility of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.  European Journal of Cancer Care, 24(1), 15-27.  DOI: 10.1111/ecc.12223.

Swash B, Hulbert-Williams N, & Bramwell R (2014). Unmet psychosocial needs in haematological cancer:  A systematic review.  Supportive Care in Cancer, 22(4), 1131-1141 DOI:  10.1007/s00520-014-2123-5.

Nicholls W, Hulbert-Williams N & Bramwell R (2014). The role of relationship attachment in psychological adjustment to cancer in patients and caregivers: a systematic review of the literature.  Psycho-Oncology 23, 1083-1095.  DOI: 10.1002/pon.3664.

Hulbert-Williams N, Morrison V, Neal R & Wilkinson C (2013). Investigating the cognitive precursors of emotional response to cancer stress: Re-testing Lazarus's Transactional Model. British Journal of Health Psychology 18(1), 97-121. DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8287.2012.02082.x