Recognizing that the emotional and psychological effects of dealing with a cancer diagnosis are rarely addressed, more and more cancer hospitals and oncology practices around the U.S. are beginning to add programs that help patients cope with the stress of the disease.
According to a Wall Street Journal article, the push to treat the psychological effects of battling cancer comes as a result of studies which show that distress can have a sizeable effect on patient outcome. Hence, the Commission on Cancer will demand – beginning in 2015 – that providers meet new standards for measuring distress in cancer patients and, when necessary, refer them to programs to address that anxiety.
“Identifying people in need of support is an integral step for modern oncology care,” says Stephen Edge, chair of the Commission on Cancer, which is a consortium of cancer organizations established by the American College of Surgeons. The commission accredits centers that treat about 70% of all new cancers diagnosed in the U.S.
Studies show that more than half of all cancer patients suffer from some level of distress. These range from moderate sadness and fear to serious anxiety and panic that severely affects a cancer patient’s quality of life. Concerns cited by patients include escalating medical bills, whether or not they can return to work, reactions from family and friends, and fear of coping with treatment.
Dr. Edge notes that some patients are strong enough to seek out support on their own. Others “fall through the cracks.”
A similar call for distress screening came in 1999 from National Comprehensive Cancer Network, but reports show that by 2005 only three of the network’s members reported that they were routinely screening all cancer patients for emotional problems. Furthermore, many smaller community hospitals and local oncology practices don’t have the funds or time to do regular screening. Because more than 85 percent of America’s cancer patients receive care at such facilities, something needs to change on this level, Edge stresses.
Doctors stress that the overwhelming feelings associated with any cancer diagnosis – no matter what the stage of the cancer – are normal and they hope that medical professionals can convince patients not to be embarrassed about their emotions.