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Animal-Assisted Intervention for People with Cancer

By Felicia Trembath

Category Reports

Cancer is one of the most widespread diseases in the modern world, affecting millions of people per year. In the United States alone approximately 1.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer annually, and almost 50% of men and close to 33% of women will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime (American Cancer Society, 2014). The type of cancer and extent to which it has developed before it is discovered determines the prognosis, or likely outcome of the disease. Regardless of the prognosis, the diagnosis of cancer and course of the disease make this a stressful time for patients and their families. Cancer itself and many of its treatments, such as chemotherapy, cause people to have trouble sleeping, poor appetite, and diminished energy. These symptoms coupled with the psychological effects of cancer often cause anxiety, depression, and aggression in people with cancer. Many complementary therapies focus on treating the side effects of cancer and its treatments as well as the psychological effects. These complementary therapies include animal-assisted intervention (AAI).

Many anecdotal stories relate the use of AAI in cancer treatment, but few studies using scientific methodology to evaluate the treatment effects have been published. Consequently, the efficacy and role of AAI as an adjunct therapy for people with cancer is neither well-understood nor appreciated. This brief addresses the gap by first summarizing the current knowledge on cancer, including who gets cancer, cancer in children, and treatment options. Second, the role of AAI in treating people with cancer is discussed. Finally recommendations are made for future research, and key resources are identified.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date May 2015
Series Title HABRI Central Briefs
Pages 5
Language English
Institution Purdue University
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted activities
  2. Animal-assisted interventions
  3. Animal roles
  4. Cancer
  5. Children
  6. Dogs
  7. HABRI Central Briefs
  8. Hospitals
  9. Mammals