A prospective, longitudinal study of the relationship of psychological work to duration of survival in patients with metastatic cancer

Psychooncology. 2000 Jul-Aug;9(4):323-39. doi: 10.1002/1099-1611(200007/08)9:4<323::aid-pon465>3.0.co;2-b.


This study is a prospective, longitudinal investigation of the psychological factors associated with the duration of survival in patients with metastatic cancers of various kinds who were receiving group psychotherapy. A correlative approach rather than an experimental (trials) design was used in the study because our aim was to relate the psychological attributes of each individual to survival rather than to test the efficacy of the intervention. Twenty-two patients with medically incurable metastatic cancer of various kinds received weekly group psychotherapy for up to 1 year, the great majority remaining well enough to attend the group for at least 8 months. During this time, they provided extensive verbal data, through written homework, and from notes taken by the therapists at interviews and during group sessions. These data were subjected to detailed qualitative analysis, as a result of which a number of psychological themes were defined. A quantitative rating was assigned to the data for each theme in each individual patient through team discussions. The scores for the individual themes were summed to produce a 'total psychological score', representing the degree of each patient's involvement with psychological self-help work. The values for each patient were then related to his or her survival duration. Cox regression analyses showed that this composite score, and five of six major themes, were significantly related to survival duration. These themes were: ability to act and change; willingness to initiate change; application to self-help work; relationships with others; and quality of experience. In contrast, there was no relationship between survival and four standard psychometric measures taken at the onset of therapy. However, results on a 5-point scale measuring the subject's expectancy that psychological efforts would affect the disease showed a strong relationship to survival. To control for differences in severity of disease as a factor possibly influencing psychological work, the analyses were repeated, using the survival duration predicted for each patient by a panel of oncologists as a covariate. Closely similar results were obtained. Limitations on the interpretation of the results are discussed. Within these limits, it appears that there is a strong association between longer survival and psychological factors related to the involvement of cancer patients in psychological self-help activities. While causality cannot be inferred, reasons are given for believing that this is not a result of the disease influencing the patients' psychology, but rather the converse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Futility*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Metastasis*
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychotherapy, Group
  • Self Care / methods
  • Self Care / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survival Analysis
  • Survival Rate
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Time Factors