Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Fighting the
fear of


Even following successful treatment from breast cancer, many of those affected live with an ongoing fear that their cancer will return. This fear can be debilitating and can lead to anxiety, depression and reduced quality of life. Up to a third people affected by cancer as a whole report that they need professional help with these feelings yet there are very few evidence-based interventions available.

This unmet need led to the important research of Professor Phyllis Butow from the University of Sydney, who is also a clinical psychologist. In collaboration with oncologists, Professor Butow developed a new psychological intervention program called “ConquerFear”. Delivered in five sessions by a psychologist or psychiatrist, ConquerFear helps participants to understand and accept the inherent uncertainty of cancer recurrence and teaches them strategies for controlling their fear. By giving participants more control over their emotions, the program helps them to focus on their own aims in life. An additional goal of the therapy is to allow individuals to choose a sensible level of ongoing cancer screening and help them maintain their surveillance with reduced fear.

As a next step, Professor Butow conducted a randomised clinical trial specific to breast cancer which compared ConquerFear with a placebo relaxation therapy. This project, co-funded by NBCF, analysed 220 people who were mainly young women with breast cancer. The results deemed ConquerFear as a successful method of reducing the fear of breast cancer recurrence. Importantly, the results also showed that participants experienced a substantially lowered fear of recurrence for up to six months after the therapy was completed. As a result, plans are in place for ConquerFear to be rolled out internationally as a new standard of care.

Professor Butow said that she excited about the global potential of the program.

“I believe the research we have conducted with NBCF support has improved the experience of people who have been impacted by breast cancer internationally,” she said.

“I would like to give heartfelt thanks to the NBCF donors for supporting research in Australia to improve outcomes for patients and their families.”


“As an 11 year survivor the fear of reoccurrence is real and constant. Many times the fear overtakes my ability to do basic things and it has led to anxiety and depression (at its worst). ConquerFear will be a great tool for people diagnosed with cancer to tap into and use the strategies to control their fears and anxieties and focus on our goals and daily living,” Tina, diagnosed 2008

Tina felt she was living the ideal life in 2008, at age 37 – a great job, recently renovated apartment, wonderful family and fantastic friends – when a painful lump in her left breast sent her to the GP for closer examination.  Subsequent biopsy results confirmed breast cancer, and then a mastectomy, reconstruction and chemo therapy treatments followed.

Tina says her life has changed drastically since the experience with breast cancer.  “Now my goals are living and enjoying my life, health and fitness, family and friends.”

“Although I consider myself lucky to have survived this disease, I don’t want anyone else to have to travel the road that I did.  Let’s make everyone lucky and work towards having a world without breast cancer.”