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How Psychology Is Helping Cancer Patients

Meagan Dwyer, PhD

Patient and counselor meeting.

October 07, 2019

Nearly half of oncology patients experience anxiety, depression and other distress – and the same is true of caregivers. But research is proving that using psychology to address these issues results in fewer symptoms, less frequent hospital stays and better communication with medical professionals and loved ones.

This relatively new field is called psycho-oncology and integrates cancer care for both providers and patients. It includes patients, caregivers, spouses, children, couples and families – everyone involved in the support system. The practice includes evaluation and treatment for cognitive, memory and behavioral changes to improve quality of life. It also involves crisis consultation since suicide rates among cancer patients are higher than those of the general population.

At The University of Kansas Cancer Center, we are integrating this type of care more aggressively than ever.

  • We are working toward including a psychology trainee in every oncologist visit as a standard practice.

  • We ensure patient care is consistent throughout both inpatient and outpatient areas – especially with bone marrow transplant care, where hospital stays can last a month or longer.

  • We frequently collaborate with physicians throughout treatment, especially at the end of life.

  • Our services continue into the survivorship stage.

Communication is key

The psychological care patients receive includes loved ones and caregivers. We help family and friends communicate better – acknowledging the situation, finding different ways to approach problems and always encouraging caregivers to take care of themselves, as well.

We also facilitate difficult discussions about end-of-life issues, such as discontinuing treatment. For example, a patient may want to stop treatment once there’s no hope for a cure, but they’re reluctant to “give up.” At the same time, family and friends may completely understand that decision – yet neither the patient nor loved ones communicate that with each other.

Encouraging better communication between patients and physicians is also a focus. Our psycho-oncology team is specialized, so they have a unique insight into the issues that accompany a cancer diagnosis. We help patients ask questions, discuss and move past any anxiety about talking with their doctors.

From patient to survivor

Our professionals help patients and their loved ones adjust to life after cancer. Going from the trauma of a life-or-death experience to living with a chronic condition can be jolting for all. Survivors might also experience the ongoing effects of treatment. And it’s stressful to experience the fear of recurrence.

By treating the whole person – as well as their loved ones – we can ease what is often a difficult journey.

If you or a loved one is interested in receiving such care, talk to a member of your care team or call 913-588-1227 or toll-free 844-323-1227. You may also contact us for physician referral information.

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