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Massey researcher evaluates behavioral trends to integrate effective cancer prevention and healthy lifestyle strategies into standard patient care

Maria Thomson, Ph.D.

VCU Massey Cancer Center researcher Maria Thomson, Ph.D., studies patient and caregiver decision-making as a means to streamline cancer prevention and healthy lifestyle interventions into the standard course of clinical care.

She joined Massey as a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program in 2017 and is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at the VCU School of Medicine.

Thomson is currently the principal investigator on a Massey-funded pilot study that examines the feasibility and acceptability of incorporating a weight loss intervention program into breast cancer screening clinics. The purpose of the study, titled Project CONECT (Connect Online to Engage Change Tool), is to expand on breast cancer prevention and early detection strategies by integrating healthy diet and lifestyle initiatives into settings where patients are already getting screened.

In addition, Thomson is interested in more effectively understanding the role that patients’ families play in cancer treatment decision-making. She is a co-principal investigator on a longitudinal study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, that follows up with cancer patients and their caregivers periodically over the course of two years to observe how familial relationships and communications influence different types of treatment, health and economic decisions.

Thomson said that this study is not just looking at the health of the patient, but the caregiver as well.

“Because caregiving consumes a lot of a person’s time, we want to know if they are still taking the time to care for themselves as well, “ said Thomson. “Caregivers are so important to the care of a patient, and they’re often present during the majority of a patient’s clinical sessions. Is there an opportunity to address some caregiver health concerns in this setting as well?”

Based on the input received from this study, Thomson hopes she and her research team will be able to identify a variety of interventions that can target the wellbeing of both cancer patients and caregivers. She looks forward to collaborating with researchers and clinicians to meet these objectives.

“Massey is very successful at bringing people together from different departments with diverse skill sets to work toward a common goal. I’m really excited about the opportunity to interact with people from the cancer center and the community to discover what interventions can be developed to address unmet needs,” she said.

Thomson grew up in Alberta, Canada, and attended McMaster University in Ontario where she received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. She completed a master’s degree in population health sciences from the University of Alberta and earned a Ph.D. in health studies and gerontology from the University of Waterloo.

During the completion of her Ph.D., Thomson developed a strong interest in clinic-based communications following interviews about cancer prevention behaviors with women who spoke English as a second language. This work encouraged her transition into her post-doctoral fellowship at VCU in 2010 under the mentorship of Laura Siminoff, Ph.D., who was formerly the associate director for cancer prevention and control at Massey. After Thomson’s fellowship,  she was hired as faculty at VCU.

Published in 29 peer-reviewed journals including Cancer, The British Journal of Cancer and Translational Behavioral Medicine, Thomson is a member of the American Association for Cancer Research, Canadian Association for Psychosocial Oncology and the International Psycho-Oncology Society. She is also the director of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Graduate Program at VCU, and she earned an Outstanding Teacher Award from the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy.

Thomson lives in Richmond with her husband and two children where they enjoy biking, camping and making regular visits to the beach.

Written by: Blake Belden

Posted on: August 13, 2018