Behavioral intervention for cancer treatment side effects

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2001 Jun 6;93(11):810-23. doi: 10.1093/jnci/93.11.810.


The use of increasingly aggressive methods of cancer treatment during the last 20 years has brought clinical attention to the need for more effective management of pain, nausea, and other aversive side effects of state-of-the-art cancer therapy. One of the most promising approaches to effective management is nonpharmacologic intervention based on behavioral research and theory. The purpose of this review is to examine the effectiveness of behavioral intervention methods in the control of aversive side effects of cancer treatments. Fifty-four published studies using a variety of research designs were identified for review. Results indicated the following: 1) Behavioral intervention can effectively control anticipatory nausea and vomiting in adult and pediatric cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy; however, the evidence for the efficacy of behavioral intervention to control post-chemotherapy nausea and vomiting is less clear. 2) Behavioral intervention integrating several behavioral methods can ameliorate anxiety and distress associated with invasive medical treatments. 3) Although a variety of behavioral methods have been shown to reduce acute treatment-related pain, there is increasing evidence that these methods are not equally effective. Hypnotic-like methods, involving relaxation, suggestion, and distracting imagery, hold the greatest promise for pain management. Unfortunately, research is scant on the use of behavioral intervention to control prolonged pain associated with invasive medical procedures. It is clear that the application of behavioral theory and methods has an important place in the care of patients undergoing invasive cancer treatments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Nausea / prevention & control*
  • Nausea / psychology*
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Pain / prevention & control*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Vomiting / prevention & control*
  • Vomiting / psychology