Objective: The purpose of this study was to ascertain whether group psychotherapy during radiotherapy for cancer significantly decreases patients' emotional and physical distress.
Method: Twenty-four patients receiving radiotherapy were randomly selected for group psychotherapy (six patients per group, 90-minute weekly sessions for 10 weeks). Another 24 patients served as control subjects. Each patient was given the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (SADS) at the onset of radiotherapy, midway through radiotherapy, at the end of radiotherapy, and 4 and 8 weeks after radiotherapy ended.
Results: The combined SADS items for depression, pessimism and hopelessness, somatic preoccupation and worry, social isolation and withdrawal, insomnia, and anxiety and agitation were used as a measure of emotional distress. The combined SADS items for anorexia, nausea and vomiting, and fatigue were used as a measure of physical distress. By 4 weeks after the end of radiotherapy, the patients who received group psychotherapy showed significant decreases in both emotional and physical symptoms, and the decreases were greater than those for the control patients. The subjects who initially seemed unaware of their cancer diagnoses had the lowest baseline levels of emotional and physical distress, but 4 weeks after the end of radiotherapy they had high distress levels.
Conclusions: Group therapy may enhance quality of life for cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy by reducing their emotional and physical distress. The degree to which patients acknowledge the diagnosis of malignancy may be a factor in their initial distress level and their response to radiotherapy and group therapy.