Grantee: Susan K. Lutgendorf

Susan K. Lutgendorf

Susan K. Lutgendorf, PhD

Behavioral Scientist
  • University of Iowa

Susan Lutgendorf, Ph.D., seeks to understand how psychological processes such as social support, depression, stress, and resilience can affect tumor growth and progression. Dr. Lutgendorf also studies how behavioral and complementary interventions may affect these pathways.

The Lutgendorf lab studies the effects of biobehavioral factors on the tumor microenvironment in ovarian cancer and how these variables are related to disease progression and survival. Her most recent work, funded by the National Cancer Institute's Basic Biobehavioral and Psychological Sciences Branch, examines how biobehavioral factors may modulate the efficacy of chemotherapeutic treatment.

The research team has found that biobehavioral factors are related to a variety of processes that promote tumor growth, such as angiogenesis (the growth of blood vessels into the tumor), invasion, and anoikis (the programmed cell death of tumor cells once they separate from their matrix). They also found that ovarian cancer patients with high levels of depression and low levels of social support have changes in tumor gene expression that reflect more aggressive tumors. These mechanisms are highly clinically relevant. For example, Dr. Lutgendorf and colleagues found that ovarian cancer patients with high levels of emotional social support live significantly longer than those with poor emotional social support, adjusting for clinical covariates. Dr. Lutgendorf is now in the process of developing a web-based behavioral intervention to increase social support and coping skills in ovarian cancer patients, with the intention that this will not only increase psychological adjustment and quality of life but may also affect disease progression.

The resilience of the human spirit is remarkable-we are now studying how we can help patients cope more effectively in the face of ovarian cancer.”