World Cancer Day, which was recently observed on February 4, attempted to raise awareness about how to save lives. One of the most important aspects of providing care to a patient undergoing cancer treatment, or even someone who has just been diagnosed, is their mental health. Dr Brinda Sitaram, group director psycho oncology service at HCG Center Hospital, Bengaluru told indianexpress.com that cancer brings with it “profound emotional and psychological distress”.

“Very primarily, because it is perceived by people that it is not curable and may cause death. This causes a lot of negative thoughts, changes in behavior and emotions in patients and their families.”

Dr Sitaram cited a nationwide study with over 21 cancer centers across India which showed that nearly 92 per cent of patients are in psychological distress, but the intensity and magnitude vary. “There is convincing evidence that 3 out of 5 cancer patients will have severe psychological distress requiring professional psychological intervention as well.”

She further stated that during some treatments and therapies, organ preservation cannot be accomplished, which, along with hair loss caused by chemotherapy agents leads to “profound psychological distress and body image disturbance.”

Dr Sajjan Rajpurohit, director, medical oncology, BLK Max Super Specialty Hospital, Delhi, weighed in: “As cancer is a life altering space for each patient, it does not only affect our body but also takes a toll on the mind as well. The patients experience a significant difference in their emotional health starting from the diagnosis until the completion of the treatment.” He also said that taking care of their mental health “will prove to be a major contributing factor in their overall treatment and building resilience to face the situation more strongly”.

The doctor shared that over 90 per cent of patients across various trials have reported a reduction in anxiety and depression with the right kind of counselling help. “Getting the right kind of psycho education about the disease right from the start along with therapy sessions can improve survival rates, reduce fear of recurrence and provide a better quality of life to the patients.” 

Dr Samir Parikh, director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, alluded to the theme of this year’s World Cancer Day, which was ‘Closing the Care Gap’, stating that “taking care of the caregivers is an important aspect that is often overlooked”. “Caregivers also go through their pressures in giving support and care to patients who have cancer. We can close the care gap by also bringing in the mental wellness, psychological and emotional wellbeing, and coping with distress.”

In fact, according to a study published in Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2016, emotional well being is considered the 6th vital sign (like the 5 physical vital signs: heart rate, temperature, pulse etc.) in cancer care, as also stated by Dr Sitaram who concluded that “by screening patients for emotional well being, we can address their issues and concerns, and restore their quality of life.”

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