Long-term survivors of cancer that developed in adulthood are at increased risk of experiencing serious psychological distress, according to a report in the July 27 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
The estimated 12 million cancer survivors in the United States represent approximately 4 percent of the population.
Commenting on this weekâ€™s study, Michael Burke, MD, clinical director of psychiatric oncology at Emory Winship Cancer Institute, says only recently has the emotional wellbeing of cancer patients been given serious consideration by physicians and patients. Yet, easing the diseaseâ€™s emotional burden on patients and families may improve patientsâ€™ treatment and prognosis.
Burke has conducted studies focused on the effects of the diseaseâ€™s emotional burden on patients and families and whether easing that burden can improve patientsâ€™ treatment and coping skills. Burke and his colleagues offer a collaborative approach toward therapies for the emotional, psychological, and physical symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment.
A history of cancer may affect current mental health in several ways, says the Archives study author and Brigham and Womenâ€™s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researcher. The researcher reports that cancer diagnosis and treatment can produce delayed detrimental effects on physical health and functioning such as secondary cancers, cardiac dysfunction, lung dysfunction, infertility, neurological complications and neurocognitive dysfunction. A cancer history, they continue, can also affect social adaptation, employment opportunities and insurance coverage. Adjusting to these functional and life limitations may create long-term psychological stress.
Emoryâ€™s Burke says to help patients cope with a diagnosis of cancer, he and his colleagues evaluate patients’ medical and personal history, environment and health behaviors, such as whether theyâ€™re getting enough exercise or increasingly using alcohol and tobacco.
Listen to Burkeâ€™s own words on Sound Science about how he helps patients cope with the emotional aspects of cancer.