Quality-of-Life Therapy Improves Health During Cancer Treatment

Volume 2, Issue 2, 2013


Therapy to ease stress, fatigue and other issues related to cancer treatment improves patients' well-being, new research shows.

Matthew M. Clark, Ph.D., L.P., a Mayo Clinic psychologist

Matthew M. Clark, Ph.D.

Therapy to ease stress, fatigue and other quality-of-life issues can significantly improve a patient's sense of well-being during cancer treatment, a new Mayo Clinic Cancer Center research study shows.

For people with cancer, fighting the disease often takes highest priority. But stress, fatigue, pain and spiritual uncertainty can severely diminish quality of life during and after cancer treatment, says Mayo Clinic psychologist Matthew M. Clark, Ph.D., L.P., lead author of the article about the findings, published in the Feb. 15, 2013, issue of the journal Cancer.

"Many studies have tested strategies to improve patients' experience, but most approaches have focused on only one quality-of-life issue at a time, and typically after cancer treatment," Dr. Clark said.

In the new randomized trial, researchers studied a group of 113 patients with advanced cancer. Of those, 63 percent were male, mostly in their late 50s. All were receiving radiation therapy at the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. Because family members caring for cancer patients also often experience a lower quality of life, the study included them.

For the study, Mayo Clinic cancer care specialists created a six-session therapy program to address cognitive, physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being. Each session included physical therapy exercises to improve fatigue, discussions of topics such as developing coping strategies or addressing spiritual concerns, and deep breathing or guided imagery to reduce stress. Half the patients in the study attended the formal, 90-minute program three days a week.

The other half of the study's patients stayed with their usual psychosocial routine during treatment — for instance, seeing their own therapists, counselors or clergy.

The study showed short-term improvements in quality of life for patients engaged in the formal program. But patients who kept to their usual routines showed a decline in quality-of-life measures, the study found.

"Much of the success may be that the program is active and engaged, and patients participated in the sessions as part of a group," Dr. Clark said. "They received support and encouragement to go home and practice things like physical activity, spirituality and relaxation."

Researchers also found that the therapy program did not improve quality of life for caregivers during the treatment time period.

"We were hoping the program would also help caregivers who tend to experience significant emotional and physical fatigue," Dr. Clark said. "We still have to find ways to help them."

In addition, in a follow-up questionnaire conducted six months after treatment, patients who took part in the program showed a lack of improvement in quality-of-life measures over time.

"The intervention is helpful at a critical time, but doesn't have a lasting continuous enhancing effect," Dr. Clark said. "Our hope is to develop strategies to help people maintain and then improve their quality of life throughout survivorship."

The study was funded by the Linse Bock Foundation and Mayo Clinic.