Dr. Karen Kayser

Professor, Dr. Renato LaRocca Endowed Chair in Oncology Social Work



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While there have been tremendous advances in medical care in the U.S., we have fallen short in addressing the social factors that limit access to health care and produce poor outcomes for many who live in urban and rural areas.

More than 14.5 million Americans are living with a history of cancer (American Cancer Society, 2015).  In Kentucky, the rates of cancer incidence and cancer deaths are particularly high. The Commonwealth leads the nation in rates of lung cancer and cancer-related deaths.

Cancer for patients and their families can produce significant mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The escalating costs of treatment and employment instability during treatment can lead to devastating financial consequences.

Cancer impacts family members and caregivers as emotional stress tends to spread throughout the patient’s support system. In fact, some research findings indicate that a family member’s emotional distress can be as severe as that of the patient.

Dr. Kayser's research focuses on improving the quality of psychosocial cancer care and studying the interpersonal and cultural factors that impact adjustment to cancer.  At the University of Louisville, she has been involved in three research projects which include studies on 1) couples coping with impaired sexual functioning during and after treatment for rectal cancer, 2) the effects of the Affordable Care Act on accessibility to cancer care, and 3) patient-centered care after treatment for lung cancer. A collaboration with Dr. Brad Zebrack (University of Michigan) and the Association of Oncology Social Work has led to the completion of A Project to Assure Quality Cancer Care (APAQCC). This study focused on improving the quality of psychosocial services in 60 cancer programs across the nation.

Under Dr. Kayser’s leadership, the Kent School of Social Work is launched the first specialization in Psychosocial Oncology in the nation.