New Trial Shows Benefits of Solution-Focused Therapy for Managing Cancer-Related Fatigue

By Rebecca Araujo - Last Updated: September 7, 2021

Cancer-related fatigue affects about 80% of people with colorectal cancer, especially those receiving chemotherapy. But it’s also one of the hardest symptoms to manage; pharmaceutical approaches yield little benefit, and while exercise and psychological interventions are more promising, there is still no standard therapy for treatment.

A new study published in Cancer Nursing reports of a novel clinical trial aimed at improving cancer-related fatigue in patients receiving chemotherapy for colorectal cancer.

The research team from Zhejiang University designed an intervention based on solution-focused therapy, a form of psychotherapy. The goal is to focus on individuals’ experiences and identify resources they have to achieve their goals. Trained research nurses led the intervention, guiding participants through the five stages of intervention: describing their fatigue, developing goals, exploring exemptions, providing feedback, and evaluating progress.

One-hundred twenty-four adult patients with colorectal cancer were recruited from a teaching hospital in China and were eligible if receiving chemotherapy. Enrolled participants were randomized to the solution-focused therapy intervention or the control group. Assessments occurred at baseline, 3-months, and 6-months. Fatigue, as measured by the Cancer Fatigue Scale – Chinese version, was the main outcome.

The intervention group received 30-minute sessions of the solution-focused therapy once a month for six months, corresponding to the first days of chemotherapy treatments. The control group received 30-minute sessions of traditional fatigue health education by oncology nurses once a month for six months.

The results show that at the 3-month assessment, the intervention group, had significantly lower fatigue scores than the control group across all dimensions. This effect remained true for the total fatigue score and the cognitive fatigue sub-scale score at 6 months. But the groups had similar results for two out of the three fatigue subscales (i.e., physical and affective fatigue were not significantly different). Using an analysis of variance, the researchers showed a significant treatment effect over time indicating that the intervention improved fatigue compared to the control group.

The authors conclude by highlighting the positive effects of solution-focused therapy, especially for treatment of cognitive fatigue. This study shows promise for psychological interventions that promote patient-directed goals, build on patients’ experiences and strengths, and affirm their successful symptom management. Solution-focused therapy is another tool oncology nurses can pursue in helping equip their patients in managing cancer-related fatigue.