BACKGROUND Previous research indicates that younger women (i.e., <or= 50) with breast carcinoma experience greater emotional distress than older women (i.e., > 50) and that coping style is significantly related to the psychosocial adjustment of women with this disease. The purpose of this study was to evaluate through a randomized controlled trial the effectiveness of a problem-solving training intervention designed to empower women with breast carcinoma to cope with a range of difficulties when diagnosed in mid-life. METHODS The study population consisted of women aged 50 years or younger who had no prior history of breast carcinoma, were diagnosed with Stage I-IIIA tumors, and for whom a first course of chemotherapy had been initiated recently. The intervention consisted of two in-person and four telephone sessions with an oncology nurse who provided problem-solving skills training and informational materials to the women over a 12-week period. All subjects were assessed for physical and psychosocial adjustment through telephone and mailed surveys at baseline, at 4 -months, and at 8 months. RESULTS Of 183 eligible women, 164 participated (a 90% participation rate), 149 of whom completed the study (a 91% completion rate). The subjects had significantly lower unmet needs and better mental health at the 4-month assessment. The intervention significantly decreased the number and severity of difficulties experienced by women with average or good problem-solving skills at 8 months, but was not effective in alleviating or resolving the problems encountered by women with poor problem-solving skills, relative to the control group. CONCLUSIONS We conclude that this problem-solving therapy-based home care training intervention is an effective method of helping the majority of women with breast carcinoma to reduce the stresses associated with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in mid-life.