What research evidence is there for the use of art therapy in the management of symptoms in adults with cancer? A systematic review

Michele Wood, Alexander Molassiotis, Sheila Payne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVE: Common psychosocial difficulties experienced by cancer patients are fatigue, depression, anxiety, and existential and relational concerns. Art therapy is one intervention being developed to address these difficulties. The purpose of this The purpose of this research was to assess and synthesize the available research evidence for the use of art therapy in the management of symptoms in adults with cancer.

METHODS: A literature search of electronic databases, 'grey' literature, hand searching of key journals, and personal contacts was undertaken. Keywords searched were 'art therapy' and 'cancer' or 'neoplasm'. The inclusion criteria were: research studies of any design; adult cancer population; and art therapy intervention. There were no language or date restrictions. Data extraction occurred and quality appraisal was undertaken. Data were analyzed using narrative synthesis.

RESULTS: Fourteen papers reporting 12 studies met the inclusion criteria. Symptoms investigated spanned emotional, physical, social and global functioning, and existential/spiritual concerns. Measures used were questionnaires, in-depth interviews, patients' artwork, therapists' narratives of sessions, and stress markers in salivary samples. No overall effect size was determined owing to heterogeneity of studies. Narrative synthesis of the studies shows art therapy is used at all stages of the cancer trajectory, most frequently by women, the most common cancer site in participants being breast.

CONCLUSION: Art therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach that is being used by adults with cancer to manage a spectrum of treatment-related symptoms and facilitate the process of psychological readjustment to the loss, change, and uncertainty characteristic of cancer survivorship. Research in this area is still in its infancy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-145
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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