A study comparing 2 talking therapies for people having treatment for cancer symptoms (CanACT)

Cancer type:

All cancer types





This trial compared acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and talking control (TC) for people having treatment to control the symptoms of their cancer. 

More about this trial

People with advanced cancer often have treatment to help symptoms caused by their cancer (palliative care). This trial looked at two different talking therapies, to see whether this could help improve their quality of life.

Researchers looked at:

  • acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), a cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) which helps people deal with negative emotions
  • talking control (TC), which allows people to talk about what they choose without offering advice or judgement

The main aim of this trial was to see whether people are willing to take part in this type of research. The research team wanted to check this first, before doing a larger trial comparing ACT and TC.

They also looked at:

  • whether it’s practical to offer these therapies
  • how useful people find these therapies 

Summary of results

The research team found that it was possible to do both therapies. But that only a small number of people completed all the questionnaires, so it was difficult to get reliable results. They concluded it would be possible to run a larger trial if there were a few changes.

About this trial
The people taking part in this trial had advanced cancer and were having treatment to help with their symptoms. They all attended a local hospice.

They either had ACT or TC. They could have sessions once a week for 8 weeks. They had 3 months to have all 8 sessions, so people could miss weeks if they needed to and still complete the course.

The sessions were run by specialist therapists and lasted up to about an hour each time. People could have the sessions:

  • at the day therapy unit within a hospice
  • in their home
  • at the therapist’s clinic

The research team asked the people taking part to complete some questionnaires before they started therapy. And at various points during and after the sessions. 

They asked about various things including:

  • what they thought about the therapy
  • their physical health and ability
  • their psychological well being
  • their emotional well being and social situation
  • their quality of life
  • what treatments they were having
  • whether they were having any other specific psychological support

They also looked at how much the sessions cost.

42 people agreed to take part in this trial. They were put into 1 of 2 groups at random:

  • half had acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • half had talking control (TC)

The research team hoped that at least 6 out of 10 people (60%) would complete 7 or 8 of the sessions. They found that 26 out of 42 people (62%) did overall:

  • 11 out of 21 (52%) who had ACT
  • 15 out of 21 (71%) who had TC

They also hoped that at least 6 out of 10 people (60%) would complete the assessments and questionnaires at 3 months, but only 18 out of 42 people (43%) did. This was partly because people who felt unwell didn’t want to complete long questionnaires. 

The research team asked the people taking part whether they found the sessions useful, 3 months after starting therapy. Only 16 people completed this assessment. 

The number who thought the sessions were useful was:

  • 5 out of 6 people (83%) who had ACT 
  • 5 out of 10 people (50%) who had TC 

They also asked whether people found it easy to talk to the therapists. The number who said it was easy to talk to them was:

  • 6 out of 6 people (100%) who had ACT 
  • 6 out of 10 people (60%) who had TC 

When the research team looked at factors such as physical function, they found there wasn’t much difference between the 2 groups. But it’s difficult to draw any firm conclusions as only a small proportion of people completed the questionnaires.

The cost of the sessions were quite similar:

  • £538 per person for ACT
  • £555 per person for TC

The team predict that the cost per person would be less than that if there were more people having therapy.

The research team concluded that it would be possible to run a larger trial comparing ACT and TC. They suggest it would be better to do fewer assessments at 3 months, so that more people would feel able to complete them. They hope to be able to do a larger trial in the future.

They also suggest the trial should also be open to people with other medical conditions, not just cancer. This would help increase the number of people taking part.  

Where this information comes from    
We have based this summary on information from the research team. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team who did the research. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Dr Marc Serfaty

Supported by

Marie Curie
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer
NIHR Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) programme
University College London

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Wendy took part in a new trial studying the possible side effect of hearing loss

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"I was delighted to take part in a clinical trial as it has the potential to really help others in the future.”

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