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Treating cancer's emotional toll

October 29, 2007|From Times Wire Services

Doctors treating cancer patients should try harder to help them deal with the emotional toll the disease exacts, a panel convened by the Institute of Medicine said last week.

The panel's experts recommended that cancer care providers systematically screen patients for emotional distress and other mental problems and connect them with people who can help.

The medical establishment has worked hard to develop new and better ways to treat tumors while devoting less effort to patients' emotional needs, the panel said.

"We have spent gazillions of dollars for getting Cadillac treatments for the biomedical piece of it. But we haven't spent money on the gas to make it go," said Nancy Adler, a professor of medical psychology at UC San Francisco who headed the panel.

"Unmet psychosocial needs are common among cancer patients and their families. There are services available that could help them. But right now, they're not being linked up to these services," Adler said in a telephone interview.

Psychosocial health services are an integral part of cancer care, the panel said. Many such services already exist, often at no cost to patients, but care providers often fail to identify patients' needs and do not help them find and use these resources, the committee said.

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