A systematic review of psychological interventions for patients with head and neck cancer

  • Amy E. RichardsonEmail author
  • Elizabeth Broadbent
  • Randall P. Morton
Review Article



The purpose of this systematic review is to identify psychological interventions that have been effective at improving quality of life and reducing psychological distress (depression and anxiety) in patients with head and neck cancer.


All relevant peer-reviewed articles published between March 1980 and March 2017 were identified through an electronic search of five databases: Medline, Embase, PsycINFO, Scopus, and Academic Search Complete. Risk of bias was independently assessed by two reviewers using the Crowe Critical Appraisal Tool (CCAT). Following this, a narrative synthesis of the findings was completed.


Twenty-one unique intervention studies were identified. Interventions tested included cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychoeducation, meditation/mindfulness, group therapy, and telehealth initiatives. Ten studies utilised a randomised controlled design. Five of these investigated CBT and three examined psychoeducation, with the greatest empirical support found for these intervention types. However, the majority of studies were underpowered to detect significant effects and did not examine whether improvements in quality of life and psychological well-being were sustained over time.


Further research is needed to investigate the effects of psychological interventions among patients with head and neck cancer, using randomised controlled designs, adequately powered samples, and long-term follow-up. This would allow evidence-based recommendations to be made regarding the most appropriate interventions to implement in clinical practice.

Trial registration



Anxiety Depression Head and neck cancer (HNC) Health-related quality of life (HRQL) Psychological intervention Systematic review 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Injury Prevention Research Unit, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Dunedin School of MedicineUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medical and Health SciencesUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  3. 3.Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medical and Health SciencesUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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