Purpose of review: Although clinicians and researchers acknowledge symptom clusters, the focus has been on relieving a single symptom. This review summarizes the recent literature on interventions that focus on relief of symptom clusters in patients with cancer.
Recent findings: Twelve intervention studies meeting inclusion criteria were published in 2011-2012. The timeframe was expanded to 2009-2012 and 24 studies met the criteria: 18 in early stage and 6 in advanced-stage cancer patients. Several cognitive behavioral therapy, complementary therapy, and exercise interventions demonstrated positive outcomes in relieving a variety of symptom clusters in several cancer types. Most psychoeducational interventions using traditional formats or those combined with automated clinician alerts demonstrated effectiveness in reducing a variety of clusters. Clusters that included fatigue and anxiety or depression were reduced by exercise in early stage patients and by methylphenidate in advanced-stage patients. Current NIH R01 funded studies verified the trends in the types of interventions being tested.
Summary: Few interventions have been tested and found to be effective in relieving the specific symptom clusters in early and advanced-stage cancer patients. Future research needs to expand our understanding of the mechanisms that initiate co-occurring symptoms. Mechanism-targeted interventions need to be identified and tested in homogeneous samples with specific symptom clusters. Interventions need to be replicated before guidelines can be established.