Psychological support can make a difference

When a cancer diagnosis strikes, the first step is to use medications, radiation therapy or surgery to treat it. However, many patients seem to forget how their own psychology can affect how they deal with cancer every day.

Why psychological support is necessary

Psychological support is very important for all people facing life threatening diseases, like cancer. The diagnosis of cancer sometimes brings up people’s worst health fears and many cancer patients believe that it is the end of their life as they know it. Very often, patients have to face - besides the treatment and its undesirable side-effects - serious psychological issues that may arise.

Indicatively, some of those psychological issues can be: stress, depression, anxiety, grief, loneliness, desperation and more.

Also, it has been observed that bad psychology and poor quality of social life in cancer patients may cause additional health problems and lead to psychological and physical fatigue. These problems are called psychosomatic.

Despite the frequency and intensity of these psychological side-effects, it is observed that many patients undervalue the role of psychological support during and after their treatment. What’s more, they may not ask for - and do not get - any psychological interventions, which may worsen their challenges.

Psycho-oncology issues

Recent studies indicate that a significant percentage of cancer patients have psychological or psychiatric disorders.

In particular, some of those psychological problems can be:

  • Anxiety
  • Adjustment disorder, that is a condition where a group of symptoms like sadness, distress and physical symptoms occur.
  • Depression
  • Sexuality dysfunctions
  • Personality disorders which can cause extreme stress, disability of making decisions, etc. (Kadan-Lottick et al. 2005)


Anxiety very often can worsen the feeling of pain and the sleep habits, cause nausea; generally, anxiety affects negatively the quality of life (Stark & House 2000).

Anxiety symptoms are very common at the initial stage of diagnosis and also during treatment. Furthermore, studies have shown that many patients have anxiety and concerns about cancer recurrence or negative progression.



Some studies indicate that depressive symptoms are linked with higher recurrence of cancer and also higher mortality risks. Additionally, researchers claim that depression can aggravate the feeling of pain.
However, some depressive symptoms can be normal reaction to cancer and its treatment.

The diagnosis of depression is usually associated with psychological symptoms such as:

  • continuous bad mood or sadness
  • social isolation
  • feeling hopeless and helpless
  • feeling guilty
  • feeling irritable and intolerant
  • having no motivation in doing things
  • having low self-esteem
  • having suicidal thoughts and fear of death.

Ask for help

Psychology has played, and will continue to play, a critical role in cancer prevention, treatment and control, according to the journal of the American Psychological Association. Every single patient should have access to psychological support as psychology helps people learn to modify behaviors that can lead to disease, and enhances the lives of people who have survived or are fighting cancer.

Here is what you can do

  • Talk to your family or close friends. Trust your family members and closest friends and talk about your thoughts and fears. It’s totally normal to be afraid. Your loved ones will be always willing to listen to you and to support you.

  • Ask for professional support. Many doctors encourage their patients to talk to a psychology professional after the diagnosis or during cancer treatment. A therapist can help you adapt to the new reality, organize your everyday life according to your needs, face all the psychological side-effects caused by the treatment or the cancer itself and lastly, he or she can help you deal with your fears and anxiety.

  • Join a therapy group. Sometimes, it may be worthwhile to discuss your problems and your thoughts with other people who experience the same issues as you. There are many types of psychological support groups you can join and your choice depends on your needs. Some patients choose to be part of groups only for cancer patients, while others, prefer to join family therapy groups. Family counseling may be beneficial in helping the family members (and the patient of course) learn ways to manage the emotions they may sometimes experience, such as anger, sadness and grief.

  • Get a hobby. If you always wanted to start painting, do it now! Cancer, should not be the reason to give up your life and your dreams. Furthermore, it is observed that art has been shown to be helpful for children and teens diagnosed with cancer during treatment. Therefore, do not hesitate and start a new hobby!

What about caregivers?

Many patients diagnosed with cancer will require support from a family member. This person is called caregiver. According to studies, family caregivers very often provide physical, psychological, and emotional support. Statistically, more women than men become caregivers and most caregivers are closely related to the person who has cancer. We can say with no doubt that family members who become caregivers play an important role in patients’ quality of life, as their cooperation and contribution are considered critical ingredients to confront cancer.

On the other hand, it is common for caregivers to need psychological support too. Studies have revealed that caregivers very often experience stress, fear and grief. Several investigators turned to an examination of the specific concerns of families of cancer patients. Researchers have concluded that these concerns can be categorized as follows:

  • The first and and maybe the biggest concern is the fear of cancer and its spread.
  • The second relates to the patient’s ability to deal with the emotional and psychological issues caused by the disease.
  • Last but not least, many caregivers are concerned about how they will manage the daily struggles caused by cancer.

Caregivers should ask for psychological support because it can really make a difference in the everyday life of the patient and their loved ones as well.

The bottom line

Don’t ignore your own feelings and ups-and-downs. They are part of the cancer journey, and you can manage them better with the help of your loved ones and perhaps professional support.

More on

A recent study showed that more than half the patients face mental disorders in their lifetimes. Furthermore, you can read more about the significance of psychological support in patients with bowel cancer.

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