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Cognitive Behavior Therapy of Anxiety for Terminal Cancer Patients

Patients suffering from terminal cancer are often plagued by anxiety over disease progression, pain, decreased functioning, and death. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) interventions for anxiety are designed to help clients test the reality and functionality of undue worrying. Geer, Park, Prigerson, and Safren (2010) indicate that excessive anxiety may lead to treatment non-adherence, and further diminish quality of life for these patients. The authors propose tailoring CBT to better serve this population.

Three case studies of patients, with incurable lung cancer, were presented in this article.  The patients showed decreased anxiety, improvement in quality of life, ability to manage stress more effectively, and improved communication with family and friends. The authors concluded, “Our tailored treatment approach helped patient gain a sense of personal control and improve quality of life in the face of an uncertain future and unpredictable disease course;” they also added that further research for treating this population of patients with CBT is needed.

The CBT treatment, described by these authors, for terminal cancer patients with anxiety was divided into four modules: “1) psychoeducation and goal setting; 2) relaxation training; 3) coping with cancer fears; and 4) activity planning and pacing.”  Treatment was aimed towards helping patients learn coping skills that reduce anxiety, as well as develop skills in managing symptoms of cancer and the side effects of chemotherapy. This protocol recommends a total of 6 to 7 intensive sessions.

Geer, J.A., Park E.R., Prigerson,H.G., and Safren, S.A. (2010). Tailoring cognitive-behavioral therapy to treat anxiety comorbid with advanced cancer. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy. 1; 24(4): 294-313. doi:10.1891/0889-8391.24.4.294.