A Substance Use Decision Aid for Medically at-Risk Adolescents: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial for Cancer-Surviving Adolescents

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Adolescent survivors of childhood cancer engage in risky behaviors.


This study tested a decision aid for cancer-surviving adolescents aimed at difficult decisions related to engaging in substance use behaviors.


This randomized controlled trial recruited 243 teen survivors at 3 cancer centers. The cognitive-behavioral skills program focused on decision making and substance use within the context of past treatment. Effects at 6 and 12 months were examined for decision making, risk motivation, and substance use behaviors using linear regression models.


The majority of the teen cancer survivors (90%) rated the program as positive. There was an intermediate effect at 6 months for change in risk motivation for low riskers, but this effect was not sustained at 12 months. For quality decision making, there was no significant effect between treatment groups for either time point.


The overall program effects were modest. Once teen survivors are in the program and learn what quality decision making is, their written reports indicated adjustment in their perception of their decision-making ability; thus, a more diagnostic baseline decision-making measure and a more intensive intervention are needed in the last 6 months. With 2 of 3 teen participants dealing with cognitive difficulties, the data suggest that this type of intervention will continue to be challenging, especially when 90% of their household members and 56% of their close friends model substance use.

Implications for Practice:

This effectiveness trial using late-effects clinics provides recommendations for further program development for medically at-risk adolescents, particularly ones with cognitive difficulties.

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