A randomized trial of interpersonal psychotherapy, problem solving therapy, and supportive therapy for major depressive disorder in women with breast cancer

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2019 Jan;173(2):353-364. doi: 10.1007/s10549-018-4994-5. Epub 2018 Oct 20.


Purpose: Breast cancer (BC) is a risk factor for major depressive disorder (MDD), yet little research has tested the efficacy of different psychotherapies for depressed women with BC. This study, the largest to date, compared outcomes of three evidence-based, 12-week therapies in treating major depressive disorder among women with breast cancer.

Methods: This randomized trial compared interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), problem solving therapy (PST), and brief supportive psychotherapy (BSP). Conducted at the outpatient clinic of the New York State Psychiatric Institute/Columbia University, the trial offered bilingual treatment by treatment-specific psychotherapists supervised by treatment experts. The primary outcome was change in the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D) at 12 weeks. Secondary outcomes included other validated patient-reported outcomes for depression and quality of life.

Results: Of 179 women with breast cancer screening positive for depression at the Columbia Cancer Center, 134 eligible patients signed informed treatment consent. Half of patients were Hispanic and economically disadvantaged. Most women had stage I (35.2%) or II (36.9%) BC; 9% had stage IV. The three brief psychotherapies showed similar improvements on the HAM-D, with large pre-post effect sizes (d ~ 1.0); a priori defined response rates were 35% for IPT, 50% for PST and 31% for BSP, and remission rates 25%, 30% and 27%, respectively. The three treatments also showed similar improvements in the Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire. Dropout was high, ranging from 37 to 52% across treatments. Predictors of dropout included having < 16 years of education and annual family income < $20,000.

Conclusions: Among patients who completed treatment, all three psychotherapies were associated with similar, meaningful improvements in depression. Physical distance between the oncology and psychiatric treatment sites might have contributed to high dropout. This study suggests various psychotherapy approaches may benefit patients with breast cancer and major depression.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00742573.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Brief supportive psychotherapy (BSP); Comorbidity; Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT); Major depressive disorder; Problem solving therapy (PST); Psychotherapy; Randomized controlled trial.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00742573