Death anxiety interventions in patients with advanced cancer: A systematic review

Christopher H. Grossman, Joanne Brooker, Natasha Michael, David Kissane

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Death anxiety is a common issue in adult patients with advanced cancer and can have a large impact on quality of life and end-of-life care. Interventions are available to assist but are scarcely used in everyday practice. Aim: To assess quantitative studies on interventions for adult patients with advanced cancer suffering from death anxiety. Data sources: MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Embase and CINAHL were searched to identify quantitative or mixed studies on death anxiety or relatable existential intervention studies in advanced cancer patients published from 1990 to December 2016. Two reviewers independently screened titles and abstracts and assessed relevant studies for eligibility. Data were then extracted from included studies for analysis. Results: Nine unique quantitative studies were identified, including five randomised controlled trials, involving a total overall of 1179 advanced cancer patients. All studies were psychotherapeutic in nature and centred on existential themes such as meaning, dignity, relationships and spiritual well-being. The therapies investigated shared overlapping themes but varied in duration, therapist experience, training required and burden on patient. Heterogeneity of studies and measures prevented determination of an overall effect size. Conclusion: Interventions were identified for this clinical scenario of death anxiety in patients with advanced cancer. Therapies of short duration incorporating spiritual well-being and those evoking a sense of meaning were claimed to be the most beneficial, despite lacking rigorous statistical analysis. More high-quality studies with tailored outcome measures are required to fully evaluate the most effective interventions for death anxiety in patients with advanced cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-184
Number of pages13
JournalPalliative Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • advanced cancer
  • death anxiety
  • Palliative care
  • psychotherapy
  • qualitative research
  • systematic review

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