The effect of group psychosocial support on survival in metastatic breast cancer

N Engl J Med. 2001 Dec 13;345(24):1719-26. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa011871.


Background: Supportive-expressive group therapy has been reported to prolong survival among women with metastatic breast cancer. However, in recent studies, various psychosocial interventions have not prolonged survival.

Methods: In a multicenter trial, we randomly assigned 235 women with metastatic breast cancer who were expected to survive at least three months in a 2:1 ratio to an intervention group that participated in weekly supportive-expressive group therapy (158 women) or to a control group that received no such intervention (77 women). All the women received educational materials and any medical or psychosocial care that was deemed necessary. The primary outcome was survival; psychosocial function was assessed by self-reported questionnaires.

Results: Women assigned to supportive-expressive therapy had greater improvement in psychological symptoms and reported less pain (P=0.04) than women in the control group. A significant interaction of treatment-group assignment with base-line psychological score was found (P</=0.003 for the comparison of mood variables; P=0.04 for the comparison of pain); women who were more distressed benefited, whereas those who were less distressed did not. The psychological intervention did not prolong survival (median survival, 17.9 months in the intervention group and 17.6 months in the control group; hazard ratio for death according to the univariate analysis, 1.06 [95 percent confidence interval, 0.78 to 1.45]; hazard ratio according to the multivariate analysis, 1.23 [95 percent confidence interval, 0.88 to 1.72]).

Conclusions: Supportive-expressive group therapy does not prolong survival in women with metastatic breast cancer. It improves mood and the perception of pain, particularly in women who are initially more distressed.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / psychology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Psychotherapy, Group* / methods
  • Social Support*
  • Survival Analysis