Behavioral activation therapy for depression and anxiety in cancer patients: A case series study

Takatoshi Hirayama*, Yuko Ogawa, Yuko Yanai, Shin Ichi Suzuki, Ken Shimizu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Behavioral activation therapy (BAT) directly addresses activities that individuals value most highly, and may be easily applicable to cancer patients. However, there is no established evidence of the use of BAT in this population. In this study, we examined the possibility of a BAT program for depression and anxiety in cancer patients. Case presentation: We retrospectively reviewed the medical records of cancer patients with each of the following characteristics: 1) were outpatients or inpatients visiting the psycho-oncology division of the National Cancer Center Hospital in Japan; 2) met criteria for Major Depressive Disorder or Adjustment Disorders; and 3) participated in a BAT program. The primary outcome was the program completion percentage. Secondary outcomes were self-reported depression severity (Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) score), anxiety disorder status (Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) score), and clinical improvement (Clinical Global Impression-Improvement (CGI-I) score) after the program. We analyzed both depression and anxiety by the matched paired t-test. Ten patients participated in the program, and nine completed it. One dropped out due to cognitive impairment secondary to brain metastasis. Both the PHQ-9 scores (pre: 14.4 (SD, 6.1); post: 5.1 (SD, 5.8)) and the GAD-7 scores (pre: 11.9 (SD, 4.9); post: 4.7 (SD, 5.5)) significantly improved after the program (PHQ-9: P = 0.0014; GAD-7: P = 0.0004). CGI-I scores ranged from 1 to 3, and all subjects except the patient who dropped out improved clinically. Among the ten patients, three distinctive cases could be observed as follows. Case 1; a 45-year-old housewife with breast cancer who did not agree to take antidepressants because of concerns about the side effects achieved remission without antidepressants and began to live an active life. Case 4; a 66-year-old housewife was so shocked after endometrial cancer diagnosis that she was absent-minded and her compliance with the assigned homework was poor, therefore, her depression did not improve much. Case 9; a 62-year-old man with laryngeal cancer who had recurrent anxiety. Increased business activity, on which he put great value, gradually allowed him to be able to live his life actively without concerns. Conclusions: This study suggests that BAT would be effective for the depression and anxiety of cancer patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9
JournalBioPsychoSocial Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Apr 29


  • Adjustment disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Behavioral activation therapy
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Psychotherapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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