Psychological and Social Distress
Key Points for This Section
Almost all patients living with cancer have feelings of distress. Feelings of distress range from sadness and fears to more serious problems such as depression, panic, feeling uncertain about spiritual beliefs, or feeling alone or separate from friends and family.
Patients who are in distress during any phase of cancer need treatment and support for their distress. Patients are more likely to need to be checked and treated for distress during the following periods:
- Soon after diagnosis.
- At the start of treatment.
- At the end of treatment.
- From time to time after finishing treatment and during remission.
- If the cancer comes back.
- If the goal of treatment changes from curing or controlling cancer to palliative therapy to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
- Mental health professionals, including psychologists and psychiatrists.
- Social workers.
- Palliative care specialists.
- Religious counselors.
Studies have shown that patients who are having trouble adjusting to cancer are helped by treatments that give them emotional and social support, including:
- Relaxation training.
- Counseling or talk therapy.
- Cancer education sessions.
- Social support in a group setting.
These types of treatment may be combined in different ways for one or more sessions. Studies have shown that patients with cancer who receive such therapies receive benefits compared to those who do not receive these therapies. Benefits include having lower levels of depression, anxiety, and disease- and treatment-related symptoms, as well as feeling more optimistic. Patients who have the most distress seem to get the most help from these therapies. However, patients who received these therapies did not live longer than those who did not receive them.