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Development and evaluation of a problem-focused psychosocial intervention for patients with head and neck cancer


Goals of the work

Patients with head and neck cancer have complex needs that affect many basic functions of life and contribute to substantial psychosocial problems. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a problem-focused intervention for patients with psychosocial dysfunction who had completed treatment for head and neck cancer.

Patients and methods

Using a quasi-experimental design, 54 participants who were above pre-determined cutoff points for psychosocial dysfunction (hospital and depression scale, work and social adjustment scale) were given the opportunity to self-select into either the experimental group for the psychosocial intervention programme which was delivered in an individualised format, with bibliotherapy as an adjunct, or the control group for usual care.

Main results

Analysis of covariance results demonstrated a reduction in psychological distress (anxiety, p = 0.001; depression, p = 0.005), improving social functioning (p = 0.048) and quality of life scores (p = <0.05) for the experimental group, all of which were sustained into the 3-month follow-up period. No such improvements were evident for the control group.


This study suggests that head and neck cancer patients with post-treatment psychosocial dysfunction can benefit from a problem-focused psychosocial intervention. Such evidence can inform practice, policy and future research, aimed at improving post-treatment quality of life for patients with head and neck cancer.

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This research was funded by the Research and Development Office for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Northern Ireland. The authors would like to express their thanks to Kelly Craig for her dedication to the project as research assistant and to Professor Kate Sullivan who provided very valuable help in the design of the project and the bibliotherapeutic texts.

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Correspondence to Cherith J. Semple.

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Semple, C.J., Dunwoody, L., Kernohan, W.G. et al. Development and evaluation of a problem-focused psychosocial intervention for patients with head and neck cancer. Support Care Cancer 17, 379–388 (2009).

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  • Psychosocial intervention
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Post-treatment
  • Quality of life