Expressive writing interventions in cancer patients: a systematic review

Erin L. Merz, Rina S. Fox, Vanessa L. Malcarne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Decades of research have suggested that expressive writing produces physical and psychological benefits in controlled laboratory experiments among healthy college students. This work has been extended to clinical and medical populations, including cancer patients. Although expressive writing could be a promising and inexpensive intervention for this population, the effects have not been systematically examined in oncology samples. A systematic review using PRISMA guidelines was conducted for experimental trials of cancer patients who participated in an expressive writing intervention. PsycINFO and PubMed/Medline were searched for peer-reviewed studies. Thirteen articles met the inclusion/exclusion criteria. Although the majority of the intervention effects were null, there were several main effects for expressive writing on sleep, pain, and general physical and psychological symptoms. Several moderators were identified, suggesting that expressive writing may be more or less beneficial based on individual characteristics such as social constraints. The reviewed studies were limited due to representativeness of the samples, performance, detection and patient-reported outcomes biases, and heterogeneity of the intervention protocol and writing prompts. Future studies with rigorous designs are needed to determine whether expressive writing is therapeutically effective in cancer patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-361
Number of pages23
JournalHealth Psychology Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • adjustment
  • cancer
  • coping
  • emotional disclosure
  • expressive writing
  • oncology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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