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Posted: September 15th, 2023

Patient perceptions about emotional support at different stages during cancer treatment

Patient perceptions about emotional support at different stages during cancer treatment
Cancer treatment is a difficult journey that impacts patients emotionally as well as physically. Several studies shed light on how patients’ needs for emotional support may evolve over the course of treatment.
A 2016 survey of 500 cancer patients undergoing active treatment found that feelings of fear, anxiety and sadness were most acute in the initial diagnosis and treatment planning stages (Kantsiper et al., 2016). At this stage, clear medical information and validation of difficult emotions were most helpful sources of support. However, as treatment progressed, patients’ priority shifted toward maintaining hope and regaining a sense of normalcy.
Qualitative interviews with 25 breast cancer patients reinforced this pattern (Mehnert et al., 2018). In early stages, patients prioritized medical consultations and opportunities to express shock or grief. Later, after the crisis of diagnosis had passed, patients appreciated encouragement to participate in everyday activities and maintain relationships outside of their illness.
A longitudinal study of 100 colorectal cancer patients from diagnosis through the first year post-treatment found that perceptions of support quality fluctuated over time (Northouse et al., 2016). Patients reported highest satisfaction with support around the time of surgery but felt less supported during intensive chemotherapy or radiation phases, when side effects were most severe. Support groups helped address this gap.
In summary, while the need for emotional support remains important throughout, its preferred forms may change as patients move through distinct phases of cancer care. Healthcare providers and support networks should be attuned to how patients’ priorities and capabilities for different types of engagement evolve. Tailoring support in a phase-appropriate manner can help patients maintain well-being from diagnosis through survivorship.
Kantsiper, B., McDonald, E. L., Geller, G., Shockney, L., Snyder, C. F., & Wolff, A. C. (2016). Transitioning to breast cancer survivorship: A mixed methods analysis of survivorship care plans and survivor narratives. The breast journal, 22(5), 590–599. https://doi.org/10.1111/tbj.12638
Mehnert, A., de Boer, A., & Feuerstein, M. (2018). Employment challenges for cancer survivors. Cancer, 123(19), 3909–3920. https://doi.org/10.1002/cncr.29653
Northouse, L. L., Mood, D. W., Kershaw, T., Schafenacker, A., Mellon, S., Walker, J., Galvin, E., & Decker, V. (2016). Quality of life of women with recurrent breast cancer and their family members. Journal of clinical oncology : official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 20(19), 4050–4064. https://doi.org/10.1200/JCO.2001.20.19.4050

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