Exploring Psycho-Oncology: Comprehensive Care for Cancer Patients' Mental Health

Navigating through a cancer diagnosis is an undeniably challenging journey that affects all aspects of an individual's life, including their mental health. Understanding the role of psycho-oncology in cancer treatment can offer immense support during this tumultuous period. Psycho-oncology recognizes the psychological, behavioural, and social factors that impact one's cancer experience and aims to integrate care for the mind and body.

What is Psycho-Oncology?

Psycho-oncology addresses the two-sided relationship between cancer and psychological health. It encompasses a patient’s psychological response to cancer at all stages — diagnosis, treatment, remission, recurrence, and palliative care. This field also extends to the psychological, behavioral, and social factors that may influence the disease process.
By acknowledging that cancer impacts more than just the body, psycho-oncology provides a holistic approach to cancer care. This approach is patient-centered, considering each individual’s unique experiences, emotional needs, and psychological history.

The Importance of Mental Health in Cancer Care

A cancer diagnosis can trigger a range of emotions, including shock, fear, and sadness. Throughout the journey, patients may experience anxiety, depression, and other psychological challenges. These mental health conditions can affect one's ability to make decisions, cope with treatment, and enjoy life.

Stress can also have a direct impact on one’s physical health. Research suggests that excessive stress can negatively affect the body’s immune response, potentially influencing cancer outcomes. By addressing these psychological factors, psycho-oncology aims to improve both mental and physical health outcomes.


How Does Psycho-Oncology Support Patients?

Psycho-oncology offers support in various ways, depending on individual needs. These may include

  • Emotional Support: Providing therapies to help manage emotions, cope with trauma, and improve overall mental health.
  • Behavioural Support: Helping patients establish routines that contribute to their well-being during treatment, including sleep, nutrition, and medication adherence.
  • Cognitive Support: Assisting in coping with the cognitive effects of cancer treatment, often referred to as "chemo brain," through strategies to improve memory, attention, and executive functioning.
  • Social Support: Encouraging the strengthening of social ties and communication with family, friends, and support groups that can provide a buffer during treatment.


Seeking Psycho-Oncology Services

Incorporating psycho-oncology into your cancer care typically begins with a conversation with your oncologist. They can refer you to mental health professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, or counsellors, who have experience working with cancer patients. These professionals work in conjunction with the rest of your cancer care team to provide comprehensive treatment that supports your overall well-being. At Northside, we have therapists that are able to assist cancer patients and their families.

Sessions with a psycho-oncologist or therapist might involve talking about your feelings, learning coping strategies, addressing fears about treatment, and finding ways to relax and stay as healthy as possible. For many, this becomes an invaluable part of their care routine.


Final Thoughts

Cancer is not solely a physical ailment. It is a human experience that intertwines with our emotions, thoughts, and social world. Psycho-oncology's integration into the cancer care model reflects a shift towards treating patients as whole individuals, not just treating a disease. By seeking support from mental health professionals, patients and their families can find the resilience, resources, and inner strength needed to navigate the cancer journey.