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National Cancer Institute

Relational Dynamics

Historically, interventions that aim to increase health promoting behaviors and/or decrease health risk behaviors have operated at either the individual level or the policy/environment levels. Very little research has focused on interpersonal relationships as a facilitator or inhibitor of positive health behavior change and its maintenance. A small but growing body of evidence suggests that close relationships – between romantic partners, friends and family members – may play an important role in the adoption and maintenance of health behaviors. Additional research is needed to better understand the role of relational dynamics in health behaviors across the cancer continuum – from primary prevention (e.g., regular physical activity) to secondary prevention (e.g., screening) to cancer diagnosis and survivorship (e.g., treatment decisions, health behaviors in survivorship). In conjunction with efforts led by the Behavioral Research Program’s Office of the Associate Director and the Office of Cancer Survivorship, the Health Behaviors Research Branch is interested in supporting and facilitating research focused on understanding how relationships and relationship processes are involved in cancer prevention, particularly with respect to health behavior change and maintenance.

Contact

Linda Nebeling, Ph.D., M.P.H., RD
linda.nebeling@nih.gov

Projects

Dyadic Processes Across the Cancer Continuum Meeting
In November 2010, the Health Behaviors Research Branch hosted an invited meeting titled "Dyadic Processes Across the Cancer Continuum." This meeting brought together researchers in the areas of caregiving and relational dynamics among cancer patients and survivors as well as those conducting basic psychoneuroimmunology and behavioral and social science research in the context of relationships between romantic partners and friends. The purpose of this initial meeting was to bring together a group of experts to discuss the evidence base on relationships and health from primary prevention to diagnosis and treatment and to discuss gaps in the evidence that need to be addressed to develop a more mature science on the interplay between close relationships and health.

Cancer Prevention Begins at Home: The Role of Parents Meeting In September 2011, the Health Behaviors Research Branch hosted an invited meeting titled “Cancer Prevention Begins at Home: The Role of Parents.” This meeting brought together experts in parenting research, broadly defined, and to discuss the role of parents in cancer-preventive behaviors including eating, physical activity, and weight management, as well as other behaviors such as tobacco use and sun safety. The meeting focused on the state of the evidence in terms of issues such as (1) the differentiation between parenting styles and practices and the implications for conceptualization, measurement, and cross-cultural research, (2) the role of the broader social context in shaping parenting and relationships between parents and children as these issues pertain to children’s cancer-preventive behaviors, (3) how to capitalize on data coming from multiple members within the same family, and (4) thinking beyond moms as parents and primary caregivers (e.g., dads, other relatives) in the context of cancer prevention.

Resources

The Office of Cancer Survivorship has a rich history of supporting research on close relationships for cancer survivors and has additional information for those providing care for close others dealing with cancer.