Palliative and Supportive Care

Original Articles

Individual brief art therapy can be helpful for women with breast cancer: A randomized controlled clinical study

Karin Egberg Thymea1 c1, Eva C. Sundina1, Britt Wiberga2, Inger Östera3, Sture Åströma4 and Jack Lindha5

a1 Department of Clinical Science, Psychiatry Umea University, Umea, Sweden

a2 Division of Psychology, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, United Kingdom

a3 Department of Psychology, Umea University, Umea, Sweden

a4 Department of Nursing, Umea University, Umea, Sweden

a5 Department of Radiation Sciences, Umea University, Umea, Sweden


Objective: Recent research shows that almost every second woman with breast cancer is depressed or has anxiety; the risk for younger women is even higher. Moreover, research shows that women are at risk for developing depression, also a threat for women with breast cancer. The aim of this randomized controlled clinical trial was to study the outcome of five sessions of art therapy given at a 5-week period of postoperative radiotherapy.

Methods: The participants were between 37 and 69 years old; six participants in each group were below 50 years of age. Half of the participants (n = 20) received art therapy and the other half (n = 21) were assigned to a control group. At the first measurement, at least 17% (n = 7) of the participants medicated with antidepressants. Data were collected before and after art therapy and at a 4-month follow-up using self-rating scales that measure self-image (the Structural Analysis of Social Behaviour) and psychiatric symptoms (the Symptom Check List–90).

Results: At follow-up, significant lower ratings of depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms and less general symptoms were reported for the art therapy group compared to the control group. The regression analysis showed that art therapy relates to lower ratings of depression, anxiety, and general symptoms; chemotherapeutic treatment predicts lower depressive symptoms; in contrast to axilliary surgery and hormonal treatment as well as being a parent predicts higher ratings of anxiety and general symptoms.

Significance of results: The conclusion suggests that art therapy has a long-term effect on the crisis following the breast cancer and its consequences.

(Received September 26 2007)

(Accepted October 16 2007)


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Karin Egberg Thyme, Umea University, Department of Clinical Science, Psychiatry, SE-901 87 Umeå, Sweden. E-mail: