Image courtesy of Chris Stacey
Image courtesy of Chris Stacey

Helping patients cope with cancer

Pairing psychology with cancer treatment has a profound impact on the wellbeing of patients, Associate Professor Maria Kangas and her team at the Centre for Emotional Health have found.

In a recent clinical trial, head and neck cancer patients were offered weekly cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions concurrent to their radiation therapy appointments.

After just seven sessions, patients reported a significant decline in cancer-related anxiety and/or depression. And after a year, 67 per cent were no longer experiencing any anxiety or depression and were doing better than the control group who had received regular counselling, but not CBT.

“Throat and neck cancer can be debilitating,” Maria says.

“Even with a good prognosis it often involves disfiguring treatment, reconstructive surgery, learning how to eat again, and sometimes dealing with ongoing disability. CBT gives patients the skills to cope with these things.”

Maria is pleased with the result, but she and her team also learned a lot – including that some patients found the concurrent treatments too much. They’ve therefore recommended health practitioners offer general counselling during treatment, and CBT afterwards to those who want further assistance.

This more holistic treatment of cancer is on the rise driven by the establishment of facilities such as the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre and the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

“Medical oncologists are making big steps forward in this area,” Maria says.

“I’ve even had surgeons call me to ask me for information they can pass on to their patients.”

After these recent promising results she’s now looking to take the next step in future trials – incorporating occupational therapists, speech therapists and other services cancer patients interact with.

This article was originally published on Stories of Australian Science and is republished with permission.