Psycho-Oncology: Unlocking The Possibilities Of The Mind

Suresh Ramu, Co-Founder & CEO, Cytecare Cancer HospitalBeing involved in setup and growth of organisations has helped, Suresh is working towards improving efficiencies and effectiveness of the Clinical Research Industry

Psycho-Oncology is the science of understanding and managing the psychological, social, emotional, spiritual, and functional aspects of cancer. It is a ‘whole-person’ approach to cancer care that addresses a range of human needs that can improve quality of life for those affected by cancer. The psycho-oncologist/psychologist works as an integral part of the multidisciplinary team to clinically understand the disease and psychologically make sense of its intricacies to the patient community.

This specialty addresses two major psychological dimensions of cancer:(1) the psychological response of patients and their families and (2) the psychological, behavioral and social factors that may influence the disease process.

Regardless of the prognosis, research indicates that one third of individuals diagnosed with cancer experience severe psychological distress and up to 70 percent exhibit some degree of anxiety and depression. Thus, healthcare systems today, have a duty to transition into implementing a holistic approach to providing cancer care to both patients and their families.

The late Dr. Jimmie Holland, founder of the field of Psycho-Oncology and the inaugural Chairwoman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the first such department created in any cancer center in the U.S. or the world. This critical aspect of looking at the human side of cancer came at a time when stigma existed about talking to
patients about their diagnosis. The patients were not told of their illness and in a lot of cases, did not wish to know, instead preferring to follow a more traditional and paternalistic path charted out by their doctors.

Regardless of the prognosis, research indicates that one-third of individuals diagnosed with cancer experience severe psychological distress and up to 70 percent exhibit some degree of anxiety and depression

Today, there exists a large variety of counselling and sup-port group programs, including those designed to help individuals cope with cancer from the initial stage of diagnosis, through their treatments, to adjusting to post-treatment side effects and transitions in their prognosis. Psychotherapies involve a more eclectic approach and range from individual face to face sessions to web-based support groups. With a greater understanding of on the connection between the mind and the body, a growing body of evidence based literature exists on psychosocial treatment modalities for cancer patient. For combating stress, bio-behavioral therapy includes training in relaxation, symptom management, healthful eating, and physical activity, marshaling social support, and communicating with health care professionals.

Furthermore, we now have valid and reliable metrics to assess psychological distress and specific psychological states, such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, social functioning, decision making, body image, fear of cancer recurrence, pain, among others.

Psycho-Oncology also focuses on the health of care-givers assigned to patients diagnosed with cancer. There are a number of psychological interventions that aim to assist and support patients and their families when dealing with advanced disease and end-of-life care. This psychological support helps in alleviating emotional suffering and in meeting and managing the many issues that arise during this difficult time. The role of psychological interventions at times also indirectly improves treatment compliance and quality of life. Further-more, there are cost benefits to addressing the emotional aspect of cancer. Research in the area of mental health, in cancer and within other patient groups, shows a large saving in medical billing through the treatment of emotional problems, resulting in greater trust among the treating teams and fewer visits to doctors and specialists after receiving psychosocial care.

Today, this scientific discipline is being increasingly recognized around the world as integral to cancer care. Training in Psychology with additional exposure to oncology helps in bringing specialists to this area. Patients enter healthcare systems with the hope of being understood medically and treated with care, with psycho-oncologists playing a key role in fostering better physician and patient partnerships; thereby ensuring the patient is never alone in her journey to beat cancer.