Karen Syrjala, PhD

Karen Syrjala, PhD

Director, Behavioral Sciences
Clinical Research Division
Co-Director, Survivorship Program
Clinical Research Division


Wellesley College BA Psychology & English
Boston University MA Clinical Psychology
Boston University PhD Clinical Psychology
University of Washington School of Medicine, Postdoctoral Fellowship Pain & Behavioral Medicine Dept. of Anesthesiology & Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Research Focus

As we know, cancer and its treatment not only attack organ systems, but also influence neuroendocrine function, neurocognitive function and, directly or indirectly, affects emotions, thinking, behaviors, physical symptoms, family systems, work and social life - in short the whole person. My research has focused on determining acute, long term and late complications of cancer treatment for hematopoietic cell transplantation and other cancer survivors, along with clinical trials to improve outcomes during and after cancer treatment. Studies have focused on symptom management for pain, musculoskeletal symptoms, fatigue, emotional distress, insomnia, cognitive function and sexual function. This has necessitated development of measures for musculoskeletal symptoms (Muscle and Joint Measure), cancer and treatment-related distress (CTXD) and sexual function (Sexual Function Questionnaire). Additional translational research is examining mechanisms for musculoskeletal symptoms in long-term survivors using human and animal models. Clinical trials are investigating methods of integrating behavioral and biological treatments, with goals of 1) reducing symptoms and complications of treatment, 2) optimizing patients' participation in their own care and 3) improving long term outcomes. Recent studies are examining the role of technology in improving our ability to measure patient reported outcomes (PRO), to manage medical and PRO outcome data for both research and integrated clinical care, and to provide personalized distance access to health care for cancer survivors and caregivers/families using the internet, social media and mobile health. Targeted outcomes for technology interventions include adherence to health care recommendations, managing cancer-related distress, and enhancing lifestyle factors such as physical activity.

Clinical Expertise

Clinical psychology and symptom management for cancer survivors during and after treatment with emphases on:

  • Stress, distress, depression, post-traumatic stress
  • Pain
  • Fatigue and activation during and after cancer treatment
  • Cognitive and memory problems related to cancer treatment
  • Cognitive behavioral approaches to symptom management including relaxation and imagery, problem-solving and integration of physical and mental care
  • Hypnosis for symptom management

Current Studies

  • Chemoradiotherapy Toxicity: Longitudinal, Prospective Biopsychosocial Determinants,
  • Manifestations and Consequences of Stress in Bone Marrow Transplant Patients
  • Workshops in Preparation for Returning Home After Bone Marrow Transplantation
  • Assessment of Quality of Life in Healthy Adults, Matching Controls for Assessing Late
  • Effects in Cancer Survivors
  • Multisite Randomized Clinical Trial Comparing Standard Recovery Preparation to Extend
  • Recovery Preparation to Enhance Long Term Function After Marrow or Stem Cell
  • Transplant
  • Musculoskeletal Health in Long Term Transplant Survivors
  • Mechanisms for Persistent Skeletal Muscle Dysfunction After Cancer Treatment: human and animal chemotherapy models
  • Use of Patient Reported Outcomes in Facilitating Survivorship Care and Determining Risk of Adverse Outcomes in Cancer Survivors
  • LIVESTRONG Young Adult Cancer Survivor Network Study
  • LIVESTRONG Young Adult Cancer Survivor Network Study of the Essential Elements of Care
  • Cancer Survivorship: A multicenter study to assess late and long-term effects of cancer treatment and to improve and expand care among cancer survivors
  • INSPIRE for Survivorship after Transplant: A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial of
  • Internet and Social-media Program for Long-term Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation Survivors

Related News

Karen Syrjala, MA, PhD

Contact Information

(206) 667-4579
(206) 667-4356
Additional contact

Mail Stop: D5-220