Background: This study was designed to replicate our earlier finding that intensive group therapy extended survival time of women with metastatic breast cancer. Subsequent findings concerning the question of whether such psychosocial support affects survival have been mixed.
Methods: One hundred twenty-five women with confirmed metastatic (n = 122) or locally recurrent (n = 3) breast cancer were randomly assigned either to the supportive-expressive group therapy condition (n = 64), where they received educational materials plus weekly supportive-expressive group therapy, or to the control condition (n = 61), where they received only educational materials for a minimum of 1 year. The treatment, 90 minutes once a week, was designed to build new bonds of social support, encourage expression of emotion, deal with fears of dying and death, help restructure life priorities, improve communication with family members and healthcare professionals, and enhance control of pain and anxiety.
Results: Overall mortality after 14 years was 86%; median survival time was 32.8 months. No overall statistically significant effect of treatment on survival was found for treatment (median, 30.7 months) compared with control (median, 33.3 months) patients, but there was a statistically significant intervention site-by-condition interaction. Exploratory moderator analysis to explain that interaction revealed a significant overall interaction between estrogen-receptor (ER) status and treatment condition (P = .002) such that among the 25 ER-negative participants, those randomized to treatment survived longer (median, 29.8 months) than ER-negative controls (median, 9.3 months), whereas the ER-positive participants showed no treatment effect.
Conclusions: The earlier finding that longer survival was associated with supportive-expressive group therapy was not replicated. Although it is possible that psychosocial effects on survival are relevant to a small subsample of women who are more refractory to current hormonal treatments, further research is required to investigate subgroup differences.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00226928.