Predicting and Modifying Substance Use in Childhood Cancer Survivors: Application of a Conceptual Model

Cheryl L. Cox

Rosemary McLaughlin

Brenda D. Steen

Melissa M. Hudson

ONF 2006, 33(1), 51-60. DOI: 10.1188/06.ONF.51-60

Purpose/Objectives: To identify factors that predict or modify substance use in childhood cancer survivors and to describe how a risk-counseling intervention reduced young survivors' substance use.

Design: Secondary analysis of clinical trial data and primary analysis of medical record data.

Setting: Outpatient clinic.

Sample: 149 females and 118 males 12-18 years of age whose cancer had been in remission for at least two years were randomly assigned to intervention (n = 132) and standard care (n = 135) groups.

Methods: Self-report questionnaires, abstracted medical record data, confirmatory factor analysis, and structural equation modeling.

Main Research Variables: Smoking, alcohol consumption, knowledge, risk perceptions, motivation, and worry about cancer and treatment effects.

Findings: Three factors directly predicted substance use at baseline: being in a higher grade in school (independent of age), feelings of being more susceptible to late effects of cancer therapy, and worrying more about cancer and its treatment. At follow-up a year later, grade in school and worry predicted increased substance use. In addition, a desire to change health behavior, influenced by the intervention and gender, predicted decreased substance use. The mechanism of influence of the intervention was evident: The intervention led to a need to change, which precipitated a desire to change and ultimately resulted in decreased substance use.

Conclusions: Young survivors' worries and concerns about their cancer and treatment-related late effects are a new intervention target. Motivation is sensitive to behavioral change interventions and positively affects risk reduction.

Implications for Nursing: Two new intervention strategies to address the impact of survivors' concerns about their cancer and its treatment are implied: (a) Replace substance use with new coping methods to reduce fear and anxiety, and (b) tailor motivation-based interventions to age and gender to communicate graphically and realistically to survivors the personal importance of behavioral change in modifying the risks of late effects.

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