beth israel deaconess medical center a harvard medical school teaching hospital

  • Contact BIDMC
  • Maps & Directions
  • Other Locations
  • Careers at BIDMC
  • Smaller Larger

Find a Doctor

Request an Appointment

Smaller Larger

Cancer Survivor Distress

Posted 6/23/2016

Posted in

  Today is another twofer. I am going to MN for the weekend to visit with my daughter and her family, and it is difficult to write a blog from afar. The reason for the difficulty is related to computers and the tough security firewall that BID has, wisely, built around our system. Sometimes it is possible to tough it out and make it work, but it often feels simpler to write in advance.

  So, today's, or really tomorrow's, topic is distress after treatment. As many of you know, this is one of my favorite topics, and I spend a great deal of time talking with women about it. Many people, especially many high-functioning and competent people, manage active cancer treatment with determination. They grit their teeth and do whatever is necessary to get through the difficult months. Once it is done, the emotional piece frequently hits. Oh my heavens, what just happened?

  If you haven't read my book, After Breast Cancer: A Commonsense Guide to Life after Treatment, I strongly suggest that you do so. It is available on etc., but also at many libraries. If your cancer was other than breast cancer, almost all of the book is completely relevant. Only two or three chapters are breast cancer specific, and the rest deals with all the life and emotional and interpersonal issues we all face.

  This is quite a good article from MedScape about the psychosocial issues awaiting many cancer patients after treatment. The single two most important facts from my experience are these:

1. It takes approximately as long to recover physically and emotionally as the whole duration of treatment. And that almost always means months.

2. These difficulties are normal.

  Here is the start of the article and a link to read more:

Alleviate Cancer Survivor Distress: Screening and Psychosocial Care
Natasha Buchanan, PhD

Hello. I'm Dr Natasha Buchanan, a behavioral scientist with the Epidemiology and Applied Research Branch in CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. Over the next few minutes I will share information about cancer survivorship in the United States, the prevalence of psychosocial distress among survivors, and what medical professionals can do to detect psychosocial concerns and refer patients to treatment and supportive care services when needed.
In the United States, 14.5 million men, women, and children were estimated to be living after a cancer diagnosis (cancer ) in 2014.[1] This number has more than doubled in the past 10 years, and the increase can largely be attributed to advancements in technology, treatment, and an aging US population. All phases of the cancer experience can cause distress for survivors, their family members, and other caregivers, from diagnosis to long-term follow-up after treatment. Distress is an unpleasant emotional experience of a psychosocial and/or spiritual nature that may interfere with one's ability to cope effectively with a disease, its physical symptoms, and its treatments.[2] Symptoms of distress can range from "normal feelings of
vulnerability and sadness, to disabling conditions, such as depression, anxiety, panic, social isolation, and existential or spiritual crisis.
The cancer experience may cause new psychosocial distress or exacerbate preexisting emotional, behavioral, and/or cognitive health concerns. Among those newly diagnosed with cancer and cancer survivors diagnosed with recurrent cancer, 20%-47% show a significant level of distress,[2,3] and 17%-75% of cancer survivors have reported concerns with memory, thinking, and attention just after or several years after the end of treatment.[3-5] The prevalence of psychosocial distress can vary by type of cancer, time since diagnosis, degree of physical impairment, amount of pain, prognosis, and other variables. Unfortunately, few cancer survivors (31%-37%) have had a discussion initiated by their doctors about psychosocial needs and concerns,[4-6] and even fewer are receiving treatment for distress.[4,7] Subsequently, less than half of distressed cancer survivors are actually identified and referred for psychosocial treatment and supportive services.


Add your comment