Non-invasive interventions for improving well-being and quality of life in patients with lung cancer

Despite recent advances in lung cancer treatment, the outlook for most patients is grim. Many still face a short survival time during which they may suffer physical and psychological problems associated with the cancer and with side effects of treatment. Although no cure exists, there is a need for high-quality care to support patients and reduce symptoms as much as possible. This review found that nursing programmes and interventions to manage breathlessness may produce beneficial effects and that some psychotherapeutic, psychosocial and educational interventions can play some role in improving the quality of life of patients. Counselling may help patients to cope better with emotional symptoms and reflexology can have some short-term beneficial effects. The main limitations of the included studies were the variability of the interventions, the way results were measured and the lack of 'blinding' (ensuring that those who are measuring the patients' outcomes are not aware of which treatment the patient actually received).

Authors' conclusions: 

Nurse follow-up programmes and interventions to manage breathlessness may produce beneficial effects. Counselling may help patients cope more effectively with emotional symptoms, but the evidence is not conclusive. Other psychotherapeutic, psychosocial and educational interventions can play some role in improving patients' quality of life. Exercise programmes and nutritional interventions have not shown relevant and lasting improvements of quality of life. Reflexology may have some beneficial effects in the short term.

Read the full abstract...

This is an updated version of the original review published in Issue 4, 2004 of The Cochrane Library. Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of death globally. Despite advances in treatment, the outlook for the majority of patients remains grim and most face a pessimistic future accompanied by sometimes devastating effects on emotional and psychological health. Although chemotherapy is accepted as an effective treatment for advanced lung cancer, the high prevalence of treatment-related side effects as well the symptoms of disease progression highlight the need for high-quality palliative and supportive care to minimise symptom distress and to promote quality of life.


To assess the effectiveness of non-invasive interventions delivered by healthcare professionals in improving symptoms, psychological functioning and quality of life in patients with lung cancer.

Search strategy: 

We ran a search in February 2011 to update the original completed review. We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2011, Issue 2), MEDLINE (accessed through PubMed), EMBASE, PsycINFO, AMED, British Nursing Index and Archive (accessed through Ovid) and reference lists of relevant articles; we also contacted authors.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised or quasi-randomised clinical trials assessing the effects of non-invasive interventions in improving well-being and quality of life in patients diagnosed with lung cancer.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently assessed relevant studies for inclusion. Data extraction and risk of bias assessment of relevant studies was performed by one author and checked by a second author.

Main results: 

Fifteen trials were included, six of which were added in this update. Three trials of a nursing intervention to manage breathlessness showed benefit in terms of symptom experience, performance status and emotional functioning. Four trials assessed structured nursing programmes and found positive effects on delay in clinical deterioration, dependency and symptom distress, and improvements in emotional functioning and satisfaction with care.

Three trials assessed the effect of different psychotherapeutic, psychosocial and educational interventions in patients with lung cancer. One trial assessing counselling showed benefit for some emotional components of the illness but findings were not conclusive. One trial examined the effects of coaching sensory self monitoring and reporting on pain-related variables and found that although coaching increases the amount of pain data communicated to providers by patients with lung cancer, the magnitude of the effect is small and does not lead to improved efficacy of analgesics prescribed for each patient’s pain level. One trial compared telephone-based sessions of either caregiver-assisted coping skills training (CST) or education/support involving the caregiver and found that patients in both treatment conditions showed improvements in pain, depression, quality of life and self efficacy.

Two trials assessed exercise programmes; one found a beneficial effect on self empowerment and the other study showed an increase in quadriceps strength but no significant changes for any measure of quality of life. One trial of nutritional interventions found positive effects for increasing energy intake, but no improvement in quality of life. Two small trials of reflexology showed some positive but short-lasting effects on anxiety and pain intensity.

The main limitations of the studies included were the variability of the interventions assessed and the approaches to measuring the considered outcomes, and the lack of data reported in the trials regarding allocation of patients to treatment groups and blinding.