Web-Based Psychological Interventions for People Living With and Beyond Cancer: Meta-Review of What Works and What Does Not for Maximizing Recruitment, Engagement, and Efficacy

JMIR Cancer. 2022 Jul 8;8(3):e36255. doi: 10.2196/36255.


Background: Despite high levels of psychological distress experienced by many patients with cancer, previous research has identified several barriers to accessing traditional face-to-face psychological support. Web-based psychosocial interventions have emerged as a promising alternative.

Objective: This meta-review aimed to synthesize evidence on recruitment challenges and enablers, factors that promote engagement and adherence to web-based intervention content, and factors that promote the efficacy of web-based psychosocial interventions for patients with cancer and cancer survivors.

Methods: We conducted a systematic search of previous reviews that investigated the recruitment, engagement, and efficacy of web-based and app-based psychosocial interventions in adult patients with cancer and cancer survivors. We searched PubMed, CINAHL, PsycINFO, and the Cochrane Library database for relevant literature. The search terms focused on a combination of topics pertaining to neoplasms and telemedicine. Two independent authors conducted abstract screening, full text screening, and data extraction for each identified article.

Results: A total of 20 articles met eligibility criteria. There was inconsistency in the reporting of uptake and engagement data; however, anxiety about technology and perceived time burden were identified as 2 key barriers. Web-based psychosocial oncology interventions demonstrated efficacy in reducing depression and stress but reported weak to mixed findings for distress, anxiety, quality of life, and well-being. Although no factors consistently moderated intervention efficacy, preliminary evidence indicated that multicomponent interventions and greater communication with a health care professional were preferred by participants and were associated with superior effects.

Conclusions: Several consistently cited barriers to intervention uptake and recruitment have emerged, which we recommend future intervention studies address. Preliminary evidence also supports the superior efficacy of multicomponent interventions and interventions that facilitate communication with a health care professional. However, a greater number of appropriately powered clinical trials, including randomized trials with head-to-head comparisons, are needed to enable more confident conclusions regarding which web-based psychosocial oncology interventions work best and for whom.

Trial registration: PROSPERO CRD42020202633; https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?RecordID=202633.

Keywords: cancer; internet-based intervention; neoplasms; psychosocial intervention; psychosocial oncology; survivors.

Publication types

  • Review