Experiences and perspectives on the GIST patient journey
Nancy Macdonald1, Ari Shapiro1, Christina Bender2, Marc Paolantonio2, John Coombs2
1Flince Research + Design, New York, NY, 2Novartis Pharmaceuticals, East Hanover, NJ, USA
Purpose: The tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) imatinib has improved outcomes for patients with unresectable or metastatic gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST), and for patients receiving adjuvant therapy following GIST resection. This qualitative study explored the experiences and emotions of patients through GIST diagnosis, treatment initiation, disease control, and in some patients, loss of response and therapy switch.
Patients and methods: Ethnographic investigations were conducted, including semi-structured qualitative interviews of patients with resected or metastatic/unresectable GIST and their caregivers, from Canada (n = 15); the United States (n = 10); and Brazil, France, Germany, Russia, and Spain (n = 5 each). Some interviewees also kept 7-day photo journals. Responses were qualitatively analyzed to identify gaps and unmet needs where communication about disease, treatments, and adherence could be effective.
Results: Patients shared common experiences during each stage of disease management (crisis, hope, adaptation, new normal, and uncertainty). Patients felt a sense of crisis during diagnosis, followed by hope upon TKI therapy initiation. Over time, they came to adapt to their new lives (new normal) with cancer. With each follow-up, patients confronted the uncertainty of becoming TKI resistant and the possible need to switch therapy. During uncertainty many patients sought new information regarding GIST. Cases of disease progression and drug switching caused patients to revert to crisis and restart their emotional journey. Patients with primary or unresectable/metastatic GIST shared similar journeys, especially regarding uncertainty, although differences in the scope and timing of phases were observed. Strategies patients used to remain adherent included obtaining family support, setting reminder mechanisms, taking medicine at routine times, and storing medicine in prominent places.
Conclusions: Physicians and support staff can manage patient expectations and encourage adherence to therapy, which may facilitate optimal patient outcomes. Patient education about current GIST developments and adherence across all phases of the patient journey are of benefit.
Keywords: Gastrointestinal stromal tumors, medication adherence, compliance, imatinib, qualitative study, ethnographic investigation