- Oncologists explain that mental health problems are widespread among cancer patients.
- More than 90% of oncologists polled believe that mental health has a massive impact on outcomes.
- Help is available for anybody experiencing excessive stress or a mental health problem.
Medically reviewed by Dr K on 6th June 2022.
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Cancer Outcomes Can Be Affected By Mental Health Issues
According to oncologists, many cancer patients suffer from mental health issues in addition to their physical diseases.
If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, your stress level is likely to have risen.
According to a recent poll, more than 80% of oncologists observe mental health concerns in their patients on a regular basis.
Cardinal Health Specialty Solutions released the results of web-based surveys conducted in September, October, and November 2021. More than 240 oncologists from hospitals and community offices participated in the survey.
When asked what sorts of mental health issues they encounter the most commonly, 83% said anxiety disorders and 81% said mood disorders, including depression.
There was additional discussion of substance use issues, personality disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Dr David Park is the medical director and head of haematology and medical oncology at Providence St. Jude Medical Center in Orange County, California. Park told Healthline that he is unsurprised by the findings.
“A cancer diagnosis is not good, obviously. And whatever underlying challenges you have to get amplified. Not just for the patient, but for the family,” he said.
Whatever affects the broader community, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, just adds to the burden of cancer patients, according to Park.
Source - Cancer Today
Manageable Stress Vs. Mental Health Condition
According to the report, more than six out of ten oncologists discuss mental health with their patients on a regular or frequent basis. Approximately two-thirds of respondents claim they officially examine patients for distress.
According to Park, the scope of the problem isn’t always clear-cut or simply determined in a single day.
“The first thing patients need to understand is that having stress and anxiety at this time is a normal part of the process. Life doesn’t stop. It becomes more complicated. In the United States, we’re into schedules and being busy and having it all. It’s really an unfair and unrealistic pressure we put on ourselves,” he said.
Posts on social media about individuals with cancer who are active might intensify the dread.
“The intent is good, trying to portray to patients that you can enjoy life and pursue your dreams. That’s true to a certain extent, but when we put it in hyperdrive, we add unnecessary pressure. It’s OK to have bad days,” Park added.
Some mental health issues must be treated whether or not cancer is diagnosed.
“This is where a physician or counsellor can pick up clues. The human psyche is complicated, so you need a whole-person assessment,” he said.
What Role Does Mental Health Have In Cancer Outcomes?
More than 90% of oncologists interviewed agreed or strongly agreed that mental health has a major influence on cancer outcomes.
Although many oncologists provide in-house support, several have said that mental health services are insufficient.
There is evidence that having a mental health disorder prior to a cancer diagnosis may have an influence on results.
“There are obvious reasons, such as the patient not being motivated due to a depressed outlook on life. They may not come to treatment as scheduled or stop taking medications. Then there’s a mind-body connection that doesn’t show on tests. We can’t discount this, though we don’t fully understand,” Park said.
He feels that an optimistic mindset is vital, but he stresses a nuanced message.
“We don’t want to give patients another job. And we don’t want them feeling guilty or at fault if their cancer gets worse. The last thing I want to do is give my patients more burden,” Park added.
Palliative care, which emphasises symptoms and quality of life, is necessary for optimal health. Two-thirds of oncologists agreed that commencing palliative treatment early improves results.
However, the survey results indicate that patient and caregiver reluctance to palliative care is a considerable obstacle. One-fifth of oncologists claimed they only provide palliative care when patients are nearing the end of their lives.
According to the majority of oncologists that have participated in the survey, doctors only seldomly recommend patients to mental health care.
As a new treatment for cancer patients, around 93% have administered antidepressants and 95% have prescribed anti-anxiety medicines.
Usually, oncologists direct patients to a mental health professional, according to Park. However, the red tape of medical insurance and the practicality of locating and travelling to another location might be a barrier to treatment.
“It’s almost like adding another disease and it’s not fair,” he said.
His practice screens for distress and has on-site navigators and mental health specialists.
“Cancer is complex and multifaceted. It affects everyone differently, physically, emotionally, socially, and in relationships. Oncologists are not trained to deal with it all. At St. Jude, we offer these services here and patients appreciate it,” Park said.
According to him, most oncology offices do distress screening, but patients, families, and carers may also look for help. The most difficult obstacle to overcome is communication.
“Just share with somebody,” shared Park. “Then, they can help you figure out your options and follow up.”
“If you’re the recipient of that sharing, be a sounding board. Of course, if the problem is urgent, you should call an emergency hotline,” he said.
If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, which is free, confidential, and accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The American Cancer Society recommends discussing psychosocial issues with your cancer treatment team. If your oncologist does not provide in-house services, they may help you in obtaining the aid you need. This might involve attending a cancer support group or receiving individual or family counselling.
“We have a long way to go, but we know more about mental health than ever before,” Park said.