Mental health support can greatly benefit cancer patients

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When facing cancer, patients not only battle the physical challenges of the disease but also the mental and emotional toll it takes.

Recognizing this, a study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has shown the significant benefits of incorporating specialized mental health support into cancer treatment plans.

This innovative approach not only enhances patients’ quality of life but also brings economic savings to healthcare systems.

Led by Jennifer Steel, Ph.D., a respected professor with expertise spanning surgery, psychiatry, and psychology, the study points to a critical gap in current cancer care practices.

Despite routine screening for symptoms like depression and pain, many patients do not receive the necessary treatment due to various barriers.

To tackle this issue, Steel and her team embarked on a Phase III clinical trial at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh, involving 459 participants. The trial aimed to explore whether integrating mental health support into cancer care could lead to better outcomes for patients.

The study’s approach was unique: half of the participants were enrolled in a program that combined regular screening with a collaborative care model.

This model connected patients with social workers or counselors for weekly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) sessions, integrated into their overall cancer treatment and conducted via telehealth for eight to 12 weeks.

CBT, known for its effectiveness in addressing automatic thoughts and core beliefs, was tailored to help reduce pain and fatigue through improved sleep hygiene and increased physical activity. For those who needed it, medication was also an option.

The results, published in The Lancet, were compelling.

After six months, and even persisting a year into the study, patients who received this integrated mental health support reported significant improvements in their emotional, physical, and functional well-being compared to those who received standard care.

This not only underscores the importance of mental health in cancer care but also highlights the lasting impact of such an intervention.

Beyond the benefits to patients’ quality of life, the study revealed broader implications. Caregivers of patients saw a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, pointing to the positive ripple effects of comprehensive care.

Moreover, the healthcare system stood to gain financially. With fewer emergency room visits, readmissions, and shorter hospital stays, the study estimated that hospitals could save over $4 million for every 250 patients treated under this model.

This study is a clarion call for a shift in how we approach cancer care. By integrating mental health support, we can not only improve the quality of life for patients but also alleviate the financial burden on healthcare systems.

It’s a win-win scenario that Dr. Steel and her team hope will inspire a new paradigm in cancer treatment, one where the well-being of patients is at the forefront, equal in importance to survival itself.

If you care about mental health, please read studies that vegetarian diet may increase your depression risk, and Vitamin D could help reduce depression symptoms.

For more information about health, please see recent studies that ultra-processed foods may make you feel depressed, and these antioxidants could help reduce the risk of dementia.

The research findings can be found in The Lancet.

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