Naaman, S.C., Radwan, K., Fergusson, D., & Johnson, S. (2009). Status of psychological trials in breast cancer patients: A report of three meta-analyses. Psychiatry, 72, 50–69.doi: 10.1521/psyc.2009.72.1.50
To determine the overall efficacy of psychological interventions, in patients with breast cancer, in regard to the outcome variables of anxiety, depression, and quality of life; to examine the moderating effects of disease stage, treatment type, duration, and orientation on overall treatment efficacy
Depression: Authors reported a clinically moderate-to-strong effect (–1.01, 95% CI –1.48 to –0.54, N = 1,324) and robust finding (95% Cl –0.69 to –0.24) in studies treating patients with high psychological morbidity and methodologically more reliable studies. Short-term interventions compared to long-term interventions (–0.56 versus –0.40) showed a stronger clinical benefit for metastatic patients. Group interventions appeared to be moderately to strongly effective in treating depression in advanced disease (–0.56), compared to early-stage disease (–0.15). Cognitive behavioral interventions (–0.56) may be more effective than supportive expressive therapies (–0.36) for patients with advanced disease.
Anxiety: Most trials were conducted on a prophylactic basis rather than involving highly anxious patients. Findings suggested that a moderate-to-strong clinical impact may be observed in patients with breast cancer who are experiencing clinically significant anxiety. Short-term interventions were associated with clinically moderate effects; longer-term interventions also showed a clinically moderate effect (–0.40) in favor of treatment for patients with metastatic disease but not for those with early-stage breast cancer. Group interventions demonstrated a clinically moderate impact in favor of treatment (–0.40). Patients with more-advanced disease made clinically moderate gains (–0.36) with cognitive behavioral interventions, comparable to the gains made with expressive-supportive therapy (–0.40). Relaxation and guided imagery studies were of lower methodological grade; pure educational interventions failed to show any clinical benefit.
The process of attempting to pool trials and explore effects is complicated and often misleading. Key findings follow.
Most trials in this analysis relied solely on self-reported measures of anxiety and depression. Literature in the field of cancer indicates that patients with cancer may under-report these symptoms; therefore, self-reported measures may be unreliable and collateral data are needed. In addition, further investigation of the timing of psychological intervention, to determine when the intervention is best delivered, is needed.