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UBC Peer Navigation Program Offers Guidance and Support for Prostate Cancer Patients

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Categories: Improving Health Care, My Experience

Cancer treatment involves decisions and effects that often overwhelm and scare patients. To help in these delicate moments, the UBC School of Population and Public Health created a peer navigation program to match prostate cancer survivors as peer supporters for patients undergoing treatment. In this blog post, Dr. Arminée Kazanjian tells us more about the TrueNTH Prostate Cancer Peer Navigation Program:

Dr. Arminée Kazanjian, professor at the School of Population and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia
Dr. Arminée Kazanjian, professor at the School of Population and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia

Cancer diagnoses often strike patients hard and challenge their perspectives on life. The medical and psychosocial effects of cancer require that treatment type and disease management suit each patient’s life circumstances and personal preferences. However, many patients cannot tell how their individual preferences will factor into their care, as they aren’t familiar with the short- and long-term consequences of different types of treatments. In addition to that, doctors cannot make decisions on behalf of patients when medical guidelines don’t provide explicit recommendations.

It’s in these crucial moments of making life-altering decisions that newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients, those who feel uncertain regarding decision-making about treatment, or those who struggle with adjustments to the disease in general, may benefit from the UBC Prostate Cancer Peer Navigation Program.

How the peer navigation program works

The TrueNTH Prostate Cancer Peer Navigation Program was created by UBC’s School of Population and Public Health in partnership with oncology clinical champions from Vancouver and Surrey. Its main goal is to help patients to take ownership of their own health care decisions and have a peer navigator as a source of support and guidance.

Peer navigators interact with patients and provide support across the cancer care continuum, offering information and resources through a secure online platform. To qualify as a navigator, they must complete six modules of online training to acquire a set of 65 competencies, including communication and empathetic listening skills. They gain practice through extensive roleplaying, learning with and from each other and their different experiences.

Peer navigation support can be provided in person, on the phone or online, depending on the preferences of the person seeking support and their geographical situation. Family caregivers of prostate cancer patients can also get connected to a peer navigator.

Peer navigators’ own experiences

Rene Andersen, a peer navigator and Burnaby support group leader, went through a prostate cancer treatment in 2012, before the program was created. “One-on-one assistance would have made it easier to collect information about a pathway to progress and treatment,” he says, adding that the program provides knowledge and support that isn’t restricted by time, as could happen with medical practitioners who may have limited availability.

Fellow peer navigator Brian Wells adds that when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, everyone he spoke with had had radical prostatectomies, which could have side effects. “My urologist made it sound like it was the only option.” With peer navigator training, he hopes to support people looking for medical treatments other than radical therapies. He underwent brachytherapy himself and sees his role as a way of giving back to the community for the treatment he received.

Participate in the program

Prostate cancer patients and caregivers: Connect with us at or call us at 604.827.1831. We will give you access to log onto the platform and answer some questions about yourself and your prostate cancer diagnosis so that you can be well-matched with peer navigators. You will then view profiles of the matched peer navigators and contact the one with whom you feel comfortable. A prerequisite to participation is consenting to complete two questionnaires as part of a program implementation study. For further information, visit

Peer navigators: If you are a prostate cancer survivor and would like to become a peer navigator, visit, email the team from the UBC School of Population and Public Health at or call 604.827.1831. Learn more about this engagement opportunity.

The program funded by Prostate Cancer Canada/Movember, available in BC and is currently in a sustainability phase to become routine care in the future. We hope it will be picked up and become a standard offering throughout Canada.

Author: Dr. Arminée Kazanjian

Arminée Kazanjian is a professor at the School of Population and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. A sociologist by training and a recognized health services researcher, her current research is in cross-cultural cancer care, psychosocial oncology and cancer survivorship. Dr. Kazanjian has consulted extensively on various issues pertaining to health systems and health policy, and has served on the Federal Health Minister’s Science Advisory Board.

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