Patients who undergo treatment for cancer (and their caregivers) frequently suffer from numerous untoward psychological and social (psychosocial) effects that are often not adequately addressed by their health care providers. A report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), found that many cancer patients complain that health care providers didn’t acknowledge their struggles, underestimated their distress, and either don’t know or don’t offer enough information about support services.
Frequent problems that cancer patients and their caregivers encounter include: patients’ lack of information or skills needed to manage the illness, anxiety, depression, lack of transportation or other resources, and disruptions in work, school, and family life. Financial burdens can lead to issues with transportation to and from appointments and obtaining prescribed medications and supplies.
Multiple studies have shown that when these issues are not adequately addressed, they can lead to further psychoemotional suffering, decreased adherence to prescribed treatments, increased risk for various medical complications and side effects, and diminished outcomes from cancer treatment.
It is crucial that social services and counseling are incorporated into every cancer care program. Without addressing these important psychosocial issues (before, during and after treatment), the delivery of optimal cancer care is not possible. The IOM report concludes that all patients with cancer and their families should expect and receive cancer care that ensures the provision of appropriate psychosocial health services.
In my experience, social services and counseling are widely available. Discuss your concerns with your cancer care team (physicians, nurses, social workers, counselors, etc.) to learn more about resources that are available locally. I strongly recommend the following resources for my patients:
American Cancer Society (1-800-227-2345, get answers to your questions 24-hours per day)