Research Centers

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Psychiatric Oncology

In a collaboration between the Department of Psychiatry, consistently rated the best program in the US, and the Mass General Cancer Center, ranked among the top ten in the nation, we are able to complement the research on cancer treatments by focusing on the psychological and behavioral aspects of cancer.

Melanoma specialists at the Mass General Cancer Center

Collaborations

The Center for Psychiatric Oncology and Behavioral Sciences brings together experts in psychiatry and psychology to help patients cope with the psychological and behavioral impact of cancer

Overview

We have an overall interest in improving the recognition and treatment of psychological distress in the setting of cancer treatment. Our research program, supported by the National Cancer Institute, has four main areas of research: depression, anxiety, parenting with cancer and health behaviors.

Depression

William Pirl, MD, MPH, has been studying the relationships between cancer and cancer treatments with depression. He has helped clarify that certain cancer treatments cause fatigue rather than depression. He has developed a fruitful collaboration with Jennifer Temel, MD, of the Center for Thoracic Oncology and is currently running a randomized clinical trial on the treatment of major depression in advanced lung cancer. His research is starting to show connections between depression and mortality in cancer patients, and he is investigating the effects of treating depression on survival. Dr. Pirl also investigates how oncologists recognize and treat depression in their clinical practices.

Anxiety

Joseph Greer, PhD, studies how anxiety can affect patients' ability to complete cancer treatments and novel ways to treat anxiety with behavioral interventions. He also collaborates with Drs. Pirl and Temel on supportive care studies in the Center for Thoracic Oncology. He currently is running a randomized clinical trial of a behavioral intervention for anxiety in advanced lung cancer patients.

Health Behaviors

Elyse R. Park, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor in Psychiatry, studies health behaviors, particularly smoking, among cancer patients and survivors. She is currently beginning a pilot trial of a behavioral and pharmacological intervention for smoking cessation in early stage lung cancer patients; Dr. Temel is a collaborator on this project, and they plan to examine multiple behavioral factors, such as exercise, in this population. Dr. Park directed a national trial to examine the health behaviors and risk perceptions of childhood cancer survivors and is pursuing research on the quality of these survivors health insurance coverage. On the prevention side, she has a grant investigating National Lung Cancer Screening Trial participants' risk perceptions for cancer. She has obtained external funding from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to support her research.

Group Members

Joseph A. Greer, PhDJoseph A. Greer, PhD, is a clinician and researcher in psychiatric oncology and behavioral sciences at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he studies how anxiety can affect patients' ability to complete cancer treatments and novel ways to treat anxiety with behavioral interventions. He also collaborates with Drs. Pirl and Temel on supportive care studies in the Center for Thoracic Oncology. Dr. Greer's other clinical and research interests include recognition and treatment of psychological distress in primary care medical settings; adherence to medical therapies; and racial and ethnic disparities in health care. Related publications.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhDEllen Hendriksen, PhD, is a post-doctoral fellow in psychology working in the behavioral medicine service at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is also a clinical fellow in psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hendriksen received her PhD in clinical psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her main research interests include reproductive health including HIV, coping with chronic illness, and addressing the challenges of care giving. Related publications.

Elyse R. Park, PhD, MPHElyse R. Park, PhD, MPH, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and is a staff psychologist in the Behavioral Medicine Service, a faculty member at the MGH Institute for Health Policy, and serves as chief of behavioral health research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. Dr. Park’s work focuses on understanding and improving health-related behaviors, especially smoking cessation among vulnerable medical populations. Related publications.

William F. Pirl, MD, MPHWilliam F. Pirl, MD, MPH, is the director of the Center for Psychiatric Oncology and Behavioral Sciences at Mass General and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. His research focuses on the identification and management of psychological and cancer-related symptoms and their influence on medical outcomes. Ongoing projects include a clinical trial for the treatment of depression in advanced cancer. Dr. Pirl is particularly interested in the association between depression and survival in patents with advanced non-small cell lung cancer and its underlying mechanisms, including biological, physiological, behavioral, and differences in medical care. Related publications.

Lara Traeger, PhDLara Traeger, PhD, is a post-doctoral fellow in the Center for Psychiatric Oncology and Behavioral Sciences and the Behavioral Medicine Service at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a clinical psychology fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She is also a research affiliate at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. Dr. Traeger’s work focuses on psychological aspects of chronic disease management across the adult age spectrum, with a focus on reducing cancer disparities. Related publications.

Ongoing Research Studies

  • Adherence to Oral Chemotherapy in Patients with Cancer
  • Are Childhood Cancer Survivors Underinsured?
  • Assessing Quality of Life for Adolescent and Young Adult CNS Tumor Survivors
  • Depression and Mental Healthcare Needs in Elderly Cancer Patients
  • Lung Cancer Disparities Center: Jointly Addressing Race and Socioeconomic Status
  • Racial Disparities in Depression and Mental Healthcare Utilization in Lung Cancer
  • Symptom Management Trial in Cancer Survivors

View all open clinical trials.

Current Unfunded Projects at the Mass General Cancer Center

  • Conducting a pilot trial to examine the effects of integrating a brief relaxation intervention into the Cancer Center for women awaiting breast biopsy results
  • Conducting a survey of all neurofibromatosis patients at the Mass General Center for Neurofibromatosis (NF) to examine emotional well being, cancer perceived risk, and sexual health
  • Building a data collection repository with the newly formed Cancer Center Survivorship Program
  • Running smoking cessation groups for Mass General cancer survivors

Cancer Center

55 Fruit Street
Boston, MA 02114

Phone: 617-726-5130