A randomized nonblinded study was performed in three cancer centers to test over a 10-day period the efficacy of (1) a triazolobenzodiazepine, alprazolam, 0.5 mg three times a day and (2) use of a behavioral technique in which patients were trained in progressive muscle relaxation at an initial session with a behavioral psychologist and then asked to listen at home to an audiotape of the session three times a day. Of 147 cancer patients who met entry levels of distress and completed the study, uncontrolled for site or disease stage, 70 were randomized to drug, 77 to relaxation. Four measures of anxiety and depression were used: Covi, Raskin, Affects Balance, and Symptoms Checklist-90 (SCL-90). Results showed that both treatment arms resulted in significant (P less than .001) decrease in observer and patient-reported anxious and depressed mood symptoms. Although both treatment arms were effective, patients receiving the drug showed a slightly more rapid decrease in anxiety and greater reduction of depressive symptoms. These findings confirm efficacy of both alprazolam and relaxation to reduce cancer-related anxiety and depression. As safe, inexpensive, and effective interventions, physicians should consider their use in cancer patients experiencing anxiety and depressive symptoms.