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Cancer Treatment: Support Crucial

Psychosocial Support Essential to Cancer Treatment
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 23, 2007 -- Psychological and social support is a crucial part of treatment for every cancer patient, says the Institute of Medicine.

Psychological treatment and social support are central to cancer care, argues Cancer Care for the Whole Patient, a new report from the IOM Committee on Psychosocial Services to Cancer Patients/Families in a Community Setting.

There is now abundant evidence that psychosocial factors underlie a person's susceptibility to and recovery from illness, argues committee chairwoman Nancy E. Adler, PhD, professor of medical psychology and vice-chairwoman of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

"To ignore these factors while we pour billions of dollars into new technologies is like spending all one's money on the latest model car and then not have the money left to buy the gas needed to make it run," Adler argues in the preface to the report.

The good news: According to the report, many of the needed resources already exist. What does that mean?

"All patients with cancer and their families should expect and receive cancer care that ensures the provision of appropriate psychosocial health services," the report states.

Cancer care remains incomplete for many Americans. According to the report:

  • 28% of families affected by cancer say their doctors paid no attention to factors beyond direct medical care.
  • A third of oncologists say they do not screen patients for psychological distress -- and those who do often use unreliable methods.
  • Only three of the world's 20 leading cancer centers routinely screen all patients for psychological and social distress.

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