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Coping with Cancer and Addressing Distress and Depression


A diagnosis of cancer can understandably be upsetting and life-changing. People coping with diagnosis and treatment of cancer often have high levels of psychological distress, and depression is common. Only about one in four needing help for mental health receive effective treatment.

Depression or other mental health problems can impact a person’s recovery from cancer and ability to access treatment. Early detection is important, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends providers use the Distress Thermometer for screening. But simply screening patients is not enough.

One successful approach being used to address the need for depression care in cancer treatment is an integrated or collaborative care approach where mental health care is an integral part of the overall care. For example, the Depression Care for People with Cancer program in the United Kingdom involves specially trained cancer nurses or social workers who provide care under the supervision of a psychiatrist.

The program has been found to improve patients’ depression and quality of life. Compared with patients in the usual care group, participants in the Depression Care for People with Cancer program also had less depression, anxiety, pain, and fatigue; and better functioning, health and quality of life.

A new study looks at a brief intervention to help address distress among people diagnosed with cancer. Researchers looked at the effects of a brief, one or two visit session of psycho-oncology intervention. The study was presented at the APA Annual Meeting earlier this month in New York City by Stanley Lyndon, M.D., a psychiatry resident at Yale School of Medicine.

The study included a total of 146 patients ranging in age from 19 to 79 years. Participants completed the Distress Thermometer at the beginning of their first and second visits at the clinic and repeated it at the end of each visit. The visits involved a combination of medication and psychotherapy and lasted up to an hour.

They found significant improvement in distress scores after the visits. The average time between the two visits was 17 days and the distress scores were not significantly different between the end of the first visit and the beginning of the second. This suggests the beneficial effect of the first intervention persisted, according to the researchers.

The researchers conclude that in adult cancer patients, “a one-hour psycho-oncology intervention administered over one to two sessions significantly reduced patient’s distress.”


Lyndon, S. The Value of Distress Screening and the Efficacy of Psychosocial Interventions in Psycho-Oncology: An Analysis of Observational Data. Presented at the 2018 APA Annual Meeting, New York City.

Sharpe, M. Adding the Missing Psychiatric Dimension to Cancer Care. Psychiatric News. April 27, 2018.


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