TrueNTH: Peer Support for Men with Prostate Cancer

Dr. Arminée Kazanjian

According to the BC Cancer Registry, an expected 3,220 men in BC will be newly diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, “625 [of whom] will die of it.” Despite improved medical treatment and a decrease in mortality rate, prostate cancer is still the most prevalent cancer among Canadian men.

Dr. Arminee Kazanjian at the School of Population and Public Health addresses the unique needs of men living with prostate cancer in her one-on-one peer support program, the TrueNTH (True North) Peer Navigation Solution. The program matches prostate cancer patients and survivors, who have already completed treatment, or their caregivers with newly diagnosed patients or caregivers.

The success of the pilot both in BC makes Dr. Kazanjian optimistic about further expansion. She maintains that peer navigation tools can and should be implemented in other cancer survivorship programs nationwide.

Many patients are hesitant to identify as ‘survivors’ of a chronic illness due to the fear of recurring symptoms they may experience. While partial remission is not uncommon among men diagnosed with localized or even regional prostate cancer, complete remission is rare. This makes the role of the peer navigator all the more important as patients navigate the physical and emotional complexities of treatment.

For example, men living with prostate cancer often find it difficult to open up to their families about symptomatic issues like frequent urination and erectile dysfunction. Dr. Kazanjian explains that this is where the experience of a former patient is useful in encouraging new patients to take on a more active role in their recovery.

The process of becoming a trained peer navigator is fairly straightforward. After at least a year passes since their initial treatment, patients are eligible to sign up for the 6-week long training program to mentor a future patient. There are 3 stages of in-person interviews and 8 online modules to complete that build upon the skills of empathy, active listening, and effective communication. These competencies are fundamental in establishing healthy bonds that allow patients to feel empowered in their own decision-making.

Newly diagnosed patients are matched with up to three peer navigators based on a questionnaire indicating the criteria that are most important to the patients, such as the age of their peer navigators, or the type of treatment they received. Navigators and patients can then connect online, over the phone, or opt to meet in person.

During their sessions, peer navigators are able to provide recently diagnosed patients with emotional and practical support for living with the disease and for improving the quality of their lives. Sometimes, the physical and psychosocial consequences of treatment may lead patients to re-enter the program more than once.

The program was funded by Prostate Cancer Canada and awarded by the Movember Foundation after the success of the first cohort in 2017-2018. Dr. Kazanjian and her team are now entering their second round of peer navigation, which will go until April of 2020.

For more information, contact Arminee Kazanjian.