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Psycho-oncological Counselling in Cancer Care

The psychological impact of cancer
Receiving a diagnosis of cancer is understandably associated with psychological and social distress, and causes significant emotional burden: at least one third of all cancer patients suffer from severe emotional distress and a concurrent psychiatric illness. 1 Indeed, many cancer patients already know the risks associated with the course of the disease and the treatments to be faced when they are diagnosed. 2

Psychological distress in cancer is associated with a poor quality of life and even an increased risk of death. Psychosocial problems are common among cancer patients. The word psychosocial combines psychological, or mental, health with social conditions or aspects. Some typical psychosocial problems include trouble adjusting to illness, family and social isolation, family conflict, problems with treatment decisions, concern about the quality of life, and making decisions for future medical care. Almost all patients have concerns about eating and nutrition. 3

Causes for concern following a diagnosis of cancer 3

A diagnosis of cancer affects many people
It is important to keep in mind that cancer is not only an individual experience of physical and psychological suffering, but it also has a large impact on the patient's interpersonal relationships. 2 In reality, patient's family also feels the emotional sentiments of the patient. Just like the patient, they feel distressed during the onset, course, and outcome of the disease. Minimizing the interpersonal impact of the illness can help to improve the quality of life for both patients and their caregivers. 2

The importance of seeking and receiving help
Some studies have reported that only about 1 in 5 cancer patients who are highly distressed are referred to a psycho-oncologist or community counselling. 1 For patients with a concurrent mental health condition, the number may be even less. Such poor use of mental healthcare services can only partly be explained by denial of emotional problems or hesitation to seek professional help by patients. In reality, if patients are asked to indicate with whom they would like to speak about their emotional problems, one third said that they would like to consult a psycho-oncologist, and more than 80% request their physician. 1

Almost all professionals believe that cancer treatments should include some type of psychological support for both patients and family members. All of these types of counselling are aimed at improving collaboration and illness perception among family, patients, and healthcare professionals. They can provide essential support to the patient and family during the course of the disease and while undergoing treatments for cancer. 2

Speak up!
For all these reasons, don’t be afraid to ask for help and additional counselling. Sharing information about the disease, how the patient and family are coping, providing tips on behavior and choices, and exploring each others feeling are just some of the topics that can be addressed. In short, psycho-oncological counselling has become an integral part of oncology that can can provide emotional support and alleviate stress and mournful feelings. 1, 4 It is an important form of contact that should be actively sought out by all cancer patients. Because of various types of psychological distress, cancer patients are encouraged to attend outpatient psycho-oncological and psychosocial counseling whenever possible. 4

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