Emotional Support for Cancer Patients

cancer cells, emotional effects of cancer

Credit: Flickr

“You have cancer,” is a phrase no physician wants to deliver and no patient wants to hear, yet it happens a little more than 1.6 million times per year in the U.S.  The emotional impact on the patient is great as they wrestle with their new diagnosis, and here we explore the research on emotional support for cancer patients.

A recent study asked patients if they had discussed their emotional well-being with any health care professional including their physician.  Only 33.8% said they had, most turned to their personal networks for support during their treatment.

Involvement from health care professionals (HCPs) does seem to improve patient outlook.  Of those who talked to their medical teams, 84.5% reported being very satisfied with how well their emotional and social needs were met compared with 73.4% for those who didn’t talk with their HCPs.

The stressors of being a cancer patient

According to the NIH, patients undergoing cancer treatment can experience stress which can heighten the expectancy of pain, cause sleep disturbances, anticipatory nausea and vomiting, and anxiety significant enough to interfere with quality of life.

Strong social ties have been shown to increase outcomes for the patient.  One study on breast cancer survivors noted that those with a strong support system “are less likely to die or have a recurrence of cancer.”

Patients can find social support through their immediate network of friends and family and increasingly, through on-line sites such as PatientsLikeMe.com and Facebook pages specifically geared to a variety of diagnoses.

HCPs can enhance the support network by passing along information to their patients.  Things such as local face-to-face support groups, physician recommended sites and even counselors can all aid patients as they move through their diagnoses and treatment plans.

What do you think of informing patients about how they can improve the emotional support around them during a diagnosis?  Do you mention it to people who are struggling or does every patient receive resources and information?  If you’re an M.D. or D.O. please join us inside Sermo to discuss this on our Oncology Hub.


  1. says

    I was diagnosed with prostate cancer 4 years ago. My urologist gave me his mobile number and said to call him anytime. I read a bunch on the internet and asked him some questions. His answers gave me so much confidence in him that I had no fear. I even slept well the night before my Da Vinci surgery. He never talked down to me and I never was afraid to talk to him and his support made a huge difference in my life.

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