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Adjustment to Cancer: Anxiety and Distress (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Psychological and Social Distress

Feelings of emotional, social, or spiritual distress can make it hard to cope with cancer treatment.

Almost all patients living with cancer have feelings of distress. Feelings of distress range from sadness and fears to more serious problems such as depression, panic, feeling uncertain about spiritual beliefs, or feeling alone or separate from friends and family.

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Patients who are in distress during any phase of cancer need treatment and support for their distress. Patients are more likely to need to be checked and treated for distress during the following periods:

  • Soon after diagnosis.
  • At the start of treatment.
  • At the end of treatment.
  • From time to time after finishing treatment and during remission.
  • If the cancer comes back.
  • If the goal of treatment changes from curing or controlling cancer to palliative therapy to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

Patients who are having trouble coping with cancer may find it helpful to talk with a professional about their concerns and worries. These specialists include:

  • Mental health professionals, including psychologists and psychiatrists.
  • Social workers.
  • Palliative care specialists.
  • Religious counselors.

Patients who are in distress can be helped by different kinds of emotional and social support.

Studies have shown that patients who are having trouble adjusting to cancer are helped by treatments that give them emotional and social support, including:

  • Relaxation training.
  • Counseling or talk therapy.
  • Cancer education sessions.
  • Social support in a group setting.

These types of treatment may be combined in different ways for one or more sessions. Studies have shown that patients with cancer who receive such therapies receive benefits compared to those who do not receive these therapies. Benefits include having lower levels of depression, anxiety, and disease- and treatment-related symptoms, as well as feeling more optimistic. Patients who have the most distress seem to get the most help from these therapies. However, patients who received these therapies did not live longer than those who did not receive them.

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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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