Bio-Behavioural Perspectives in Cancer

Prof Ruth Curtis, Prof Barbara Andersen, Prof Mike Antoni and Dr AnnMarie Groarke

by Emma Carr

As part of the continued celebrations of 21 years of Health Psychology at NUI Galway, the School of Psychology held an international seminar on Wednesday September 23rd.

The Corrib Princess boat, on the lovely river Corrib

The Corrib Princess boat, on the lovely river Corrib- the scene for our post-seminar shenanigans

The seminar “Bio-­Behavioural Perspectives on Cancer” focused on the effects of psychosocial interventions on psychological adjustment, biological processes and health outcomes.  Our guest speakers were Professor Michael Antoni and Professor Barbara Andersen, two internationally renowned researchers in the psycho-oncology field.  We ended the day with a delightful boat trip on the river Corrib, with dinner, live music (provided by one of our distinguished guests!), and plenty of health psychology craic!

Professor Barbara Andersen and Professor Michael Antoni

Professor Barbara Andersen and Professor Michael Antoni before the seminar in Galway

Professor Barbara Andersen is Professor of Psychology at Ohio State University with a joint appointment in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is Director of the OSU Livestrong Survivorship Centre of Excellence. She serves on the Immunology and Cancer Prevention and Control Programmes in the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

Professor Michael Antoni is Sylvester Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry Behavioural Sciences at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Centre and Survivorship Theme leader of the Cancer Prevention Control programme there. He is Director of the NCI funded Centre for Psycho-Oncology Research at the University of Miami.  Mike is also a skilled blues/jazz keyboardist; he wowed us all with some quality tunes on the Corrib Princess!


Prof Andersen presented her work on a psychological intervention targeting stress, emotional distress and social adjustment in breast cancer patients. They also assessed health behaviours such as diet, exercise, smoking, and adherence.  Patients who took part in the intervention had significantly reduced anxiety and a significant increase in their perceived social support compared to controls.  Follow-up assessments were conducted on the same women 11 years later.  Participation in the intervention reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence, reduced risk of death from breast cancer and reduced risk of death from all causes.  Oohs and aahs could be heard rolling around the Galway lecture theatre upon presentation of these results.

Prof Andersen kicking off the seminar

Prof Andersen kicking off the seminar

Prof Andersen’s team followed-up with those individuals who had a recurrence of breast cancer (62/227)… Unsurprisingly all patients responded with significant psychological distress upon diagnosis of recurrence.  However after initial diagnosis only the intervention arm improved psychologically.  After 12 months the intervention group had significantly better immune function than the control group.

Prof Andersen left a suitably impressed audience into the capable hands of Prof Antoni, who picked up where she left off.


Prof Antoni’s presentation centred around the effects of a 10-week cognitive behavioural stress management (CBSM) intervention with women with breast cancer.  The intervention group experienced an increase in emotional well-being, positive states of mind, benefit finding and positive affect.  They also reported reduced social disruption and a positive lifestyle change. These effects were maintained at the follow-up assessment 1 year later and some effects strengthened over time.

Prof Antoni presenting his reasearch

Prof Antoni presenting his research

After the intervention patients had lower cancer-specific anxiety and lower general anxiety symptoms, and physiologically, they had lower cortisol levels and greater Th1 cytokine production compared to those in the control group. Analysis revealed that baseline negative affect was associated with an upregulated expression of pro-inflammatory and metastasis-related genes. Therefore, the CBSM intervention produced a positive change in how the patient’s bodies reacted physiologically to their cancer treatment and recovery.  As you can imagine, this was followed by more oohs and aahs from the audience.


Dr Sinead Conneelly, Ms Annmarie Keane and Dr Line Caes

Dr Sinead Conneelly, Ms Annmarie Keane and Dr Line Caes on the Corrib Princess

The day’s presentations highlighted the value of psychological interventions to cancer patients in aiding in psychological adjustment, positively impacting biological processes and ultimately improving health outcomes.  For more information on Prof Barbara Andersen’s work click here and for more about Prof Mike Antoni’s work click here.

The seminar was an exciting and enlightening event, and, as is evidenced by the photos*, this atmosphere was maintained and developed long into the night. 

*A big thank you to Dr John Bogue for the wonderful photos

The dulcet tones of Jenny Groarke and her band on the Corrib Princess

Jenny Groarke and her band on the Corrib Princess

L-R Dr AnnMarie Groarke, XX, Prof Barbara Andersen, Dr Jane Walsh, Prof Mike Antoni XX, XX, XX, and Prof Ruth Curtis,

L-R: Dr AnnMarie Groarke, Donal Curtis, Prof Barbara Andersen, Dr Jane Walsh, Prof Mike Antoni, Erin Antoni, Janae DeLeon, Tim Groarke, and Prof Ruth Curtis,

Dr Padraig MacNeela and Seamus McLoone

Dr Padraig MacNeela and Seamus McLoone

We had a right session

Prof Antoni, jammin’

A surprise performance from thh multi-talented Dr Jonathan Egan

A surprise performance from the multi-talented Dr Jonathan Egan

Musical masterpieces were not the only thing reproduced on the boat

Milou Fredrix and Eimear Morrissey: Musical masterpieces were not the only thing reproduced on the boat

Teresa Corbett and Jennifer Keane

Teresa Corbett and Jennifer Keane

The aforementioned craic

The aforementioned craic being had

Like father like daughter: Mike's daughter Janae Deleon joined in

We were very lucky to have Mike’s daughter, Janae Deleon, join in on stage

the whole crew

The whole Health Psychology gang

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