In the largest expressive writing trial conducted on an oncology population, MD Anderson researchers found that patients who recorded their deepest thoughts and emotions saw improved physical function and quality of life.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, and led by Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., enrolled 284 patients diagnosed with stage I-IV renal cell carcinoma from 2006-09.
Participants were randomly assigned to either a neutral writing group (NW) or an expressive writing group (EW). Neutral writing included general thoughts about dietary behaviors, sleep and attitudes toward smoking, whereas expressive writing focused on a patient’s deepest personal thoughts. Patients in both groups were prompted to write on four separate occasions.
Both groups completed a series of questionnaires measuring intrusive thoughts, cancer-related symptoms, fatigue, depressive symptoms, sleep disturbances and overall quality of life.
Follow-ups were conducted one, four and 10 months after the writing intervention. Ten months later, when the most pronounced group differences occurred, cancer-related symptoms were significantly lower for those in the EW group than the NW group, and the EW group reported better physical functioning aspects of quality of life.
Fatigue levels also were moderately lower for those in the EW group compared to the NW group. At the one-month follow-up point, the data revealed patients in the EW group reported fewer intrusive thoughts compared to patients in the NW group, which is what led to improvements in cancer-related symptoms and fatigue levels at 10 months.