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Abstract

Background: The purpose of this study was to determine if patients with advanced breast cancer and their family caregivers, who participated in a family based intervention, report better quality of life and other psychosocial outcomes than dyads who received standard care alone.

Methods: Using a randomized clinical trial, 134 patients and their family caregivers were assigned to usual care (control) or to usual care plus the family intervention (experimental condition). Dyads were assessed at baseline, three- and six-months later. The intervention consisted of five sessions and addressed family involvement, optimistic attitude, coping effectiveness, uncertainty reduction, and symptom management.

Results: Patients in the family intervention reported significantly less hopelessness and less negative appraisal of illness than controls; their family caregivers reported significantly less negative appraisal of caregiving. Intervention effects were evident at three-months, but were not sustained at six-months. No difference was found in the quality of life of dyads in experimental or control conditions.

Conclusions: Although the family intervention had positive effects initially, these effects were not sustained over time. Future studies need to consider program dose and duration of effect, outcome measures that are more sensitive to change, and realistic end-points for patients with advanced cancer. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.