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The Adjustment Disorders



A meta-analysis of 45 such studies investigating 62 treatment-control comparisons found significant beneficial effects in emotional adjustment.[9][Level of evidence: I] Beneficial effect sizes for emotional adjustment ranged from .19 to .28, indicating that the average cancer patient receiving treatment was better off than 56.5% to 59.5% of those patients not receiving treatment. These interventions have been administered in both individual [10][Level of evidence: I] and group formats,[18][Level of evidence: II] indicating benefits in emotional adjustment from both formats at the conclusion of the intervention and at 6-month and 12-month follow-up assessments. One novel approach adapted a 6-week group format to a telephone conference call structure for breast cancer survivors; there was high acceptability and modest treatment effects immediately after the intervention but not at the 3-month follow-up.[19][Level of evidence: I]

Another study found that a cognitive behavioral intervention to teach problem solving was effective in promoting better self-management of cancer-related symptoms, especially for patients aged 60 years or younger.[20][Level of evidence: I]


No studies have specifically targeted a population of cancer patients diagnosed exclusively with adjustment disorder, in which the primary intervention was some form of pharmacotherapy. Given the nature of the adjustment disorders, clinical experience suggests that, if available, an initial trial of short-term counseling or psychotherapy designed to alter or eliminate the identified stressor (and thus alleviate symptoms) should be tried before pharmacotherapy.[6]

As mentioned previously, sometimes the adjustment disorder may progress to a more severe mental disorder (e.g., major depressive disorder) and thus warrant consideration of pharmacotherapy. In addition, when the patient does not benefit from short-term psychotherapy, adding an appropriate psychotropic medication for a brief period of time (e.g., 2-3 weeks for antianxiety medications, 12 months for antidepressants) may facilitate the psychotherapy, allowing the patient to better employ available coping strategies. The specific pattern of emotional or behavioral symptoms will determine which type of psychotropic medication to consider. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Depression for more information.)

Current Clinical Trials

Check NCI's list of cancer clinical trials for U.S. supportive and palliative care trials about adjustment disorder that are now accepting participants. The list of trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.


  1. American Psychiatric Association.: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR. 4th rev. ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
  2. Derogatis LR, Morrow GR, Fetting J, et al.: The prevalence of psychiatric disorders among cancer patients. JAMA 249 (6): 751-7, 1983.
  3. Miovic M, Block S: Psychiatric disorders in advanced cancer. Cancer 110 (8): 1665-76, 2007.
  4. Morasso G: Screening adjustment disorders related to mastectomy and its treatment. New Trends in Experimental and Clinical Psychiatry 13 (1): 90-3, 1997.
  5. Akechi T, Okuyama T, Sugawara Y, et al.: Major depression, adjustment disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder in terminally ill cancer patients: associated and predictive factors. J Clin Oncol 22 (10): 1957-65, 2004.
  6. Strain JJ: Adjustment disorders. In: Holland JC, Breitbart W, Jacobsen PB, et al., eds.: Psycho-oncology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998, pp 509-17.
  7. Kirsh KL, McGrew JH, Dugan M, et al.: Difficulties in screening for adjustment disorder, Part I: Use of existing screening instruments in cancer patients undergoing bone marrow transplantation. Palliat Support Care 2 (1): 23-31, 2004.
  8. Kirsh KL, McGrew JH, Passik SD: Difficulties in screening for adjustment disorder, Part II: An attempt to develop a novel self-report screening instrument in cancer patients undergoing bone marrow transplantation. Palliat Support Care 2 (1): 33-41, 2004.
  9. Meyer TJ, Mark MM: Effects of psychosocial interventions with adult cancer patients: a meta-analysis of randomized experiments. Health Psychol 14 (2): 101-8, 1995.
  10. Greer S, Moorey S, Baruch JD, et al.: Adjuvant psychological therapy for patients with cancer: a prospective randomised trial. BMJ 304 (6828): 675-80, 1992.
  11. Telch CF, Telch MJ: Group coping skills instruction and supportive group therapy for cancer patients: a comparison of strategies. J Consult Clin Psychol 54 (6): 802-8, 1986.
  12. Penedo FJ, Dahn JR, Molton I, et al.: Cognitive-behavioral stress management improves stress-management skills and quality of life in men recovering from treatment of prostate carcinoma. Cancer 100 (1): 192-200, 2004.
  13. Goodwin PJ, Leszcz M, Ennis M, et al.: The effect of group psychosocial support on survival in metastatic breast cancer. N Engl J Med 345 (24): 1719-26, 2001.
  14. Moorey S, Greer S, Bliss J, et al.: A comparison of adjuvant psychological therapy and supportive counselling in patients with cancer. Psychooncology 7 (3): 218-28, 1998 May-Jun.
  15. Jacobsen PB, Hann DM: Cognitive-behavioral interventions. In: Holland JC, Breitbart W, Jacobsen PB, et al., eds.: Psycho-oncology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998, pp 717-29.
  16. Allen SM, Shah AC, Nezu AM, et al.: A problem-solving approach to stress reduction among younger women with breast carcinoma: a randomized controlled trial. Cancer 94 (12): 3089-100, 2002.
  17. Jacobsen PB, Meade CD, Stein KD, et al.: Efficacy and costs of two forms of stress management training for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. J Clin Oncol 20 (12): 2851-62, 2002.
  18. Fawzy FI, Cousins N, Fawzy NW, et al.: A structured psychiatric intervention for cancer patients. I. Changes over time in methods of coping and affective disturbance. Arch Gen Psychiatry 47 (8): 720-5, 1990.
  19. Heiney SP, McWayne J, Hurley TG, et al.: Efficacy of therapeutic group by telephone for women with breast cancer. Cancer Nurs 26 (6): 439-47, 2003.
  20. Sherwood P, Given BA, Given CW, et al.: A cognitive behavioral intervention for symptom management in patients with advanced cancer. Oncol Nurs Forum 32 (6): 1190-8, 2005.

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: October 07, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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