Role of a medical social worker in improving quality of life for patients with advanced cancer with a structured multidisciplinary intervention

Janis J. Miller, Marlene H. Frost, Teresa A. Rummans, Mashele Huschka, Pamela Atherton, Paul Brown, Gail Gamble, Jarrett Richardson, Jean Hanson, Jeff A. Sloan, Matthew M. Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Background: Patients with advanced cancer face multiple challenges to their quality of life (QOL). The goal of this study was to investigate the impact of participation in a multidisciplinary intervention, including a social service component, on improving the QOL of patients with advanced cancer undergoing radiation therapy. Design: A total of 115 participants with newly diagnosed advanced stage cancer, who were receiving radiation therapy, were randomly assigned to either participate in an 8-session structured multidisciplinary intervention or to receive standard care. Each 90-minute session was led by either a psychologist or psychiatrist and co-led with a nurse, physical therapist, chaplain, and/or social worker. The sessions were designed to address the domains that impact QOL: emotional, spiritual, physical, and social domains (support, community resources, financial and legal issues, and advance directives). QOL was assessed, at baseline, 4 (end of treatment), 8 and 27 weeks. The primary endpoint was overall QOL assessed on a 0-100 scale at Week 4. Results: A total of 115 patients were enrolled from October 2, 2000 to October 28, 2002. Overall QOL at Week 4 averaged 10 points higher in the intervention group than in the control group (80 vs. 70 points, p = 0.047) which was an increase of 3% from baseline in the intervention group versus a decrease of 9% in the control group (p = 0.009). Of the subscores reflecting patient's opinion regarding their QOL, there was improvement in all social domains which contributed to the overall improvement in QOL. Significant changes from baseline to Week 4 scores were seen in the areas of financial concerns (p = 0.025) and legal issues (p = 0.048). Conclusions: A social work component within a structured multidisciplinary intervention results in significant advantages in the social domain of QOL, and contributes to clinically meaningful improvements in the overall QOL for patients with advanced cancer undergoing active medical treatment. Numerous studies have documented the financial burdens and social changes that may occur with the diagnosis of cancer. However, previous research has not examined the role of a social worker in providing financial, social, and legal education, in a structured multidisciplinary intervention, and its direct impact on QOL. Outlined in this paper is the role of the medical social worker in a clinical trial, how education was provided and strategies for future interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-119
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Psychosocial Oncology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 5 2007


  • Advanced cancer
  • Education
  • Group intervention
  • Multidisciplinary
  • Quality of life

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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