Abstract Diagnosis of cancer is associated with mental health



Diagnosis of cancer is associated with mental health. Caregivers should acknowledge the link that is present between body and mind when it comes to cancer. Much attention with regards to this problem has been directed to medical treatment leaving out psychological treatment or interventions. This paper has the aim looking at cancer from psychological perspective. Among the things that will be analyzed are current statistics with regard to cancer, psychological symptoms of cancer, its causes, its intervention or treatment, and biblical perspective of cancer.


Popular accounts related to the experience of dealing with cancer are riveting. It portrays the image of disease that has a number of emotional and psychological needs on patients and their families. Diagnosis of cancer is associated with mental health. Caregivers should acknowledge the link that is present between body and mind when it comes to cancer. The need to discover medical treatment that is more effective has redirected a lot of focus from the search of better ways to help psychological well-being of patients. “The predominant metaphor in recent times has been that of waging a war on cancer, on eradicating a ruthless and rapacious enemy within the patient, and this contrasts to a growing recognition of the importance of attending to the holistic needs of the person in which this “enemy” resides both during and after treatment” (Stanton, Rowland, & Ganz, 2015, p. 159).

The situation with regards to cancer is gradually changing, especially in the recent years. Due to new discoveries and advancement in the field of cancer when it comes to treatment, screening technologies, and cancer detection, the group of long-term cancer survivors has been going up rapidly. The increase in the number of survivors has changed the conception related to cancer as being an acute disease. Many people now term it a chronic disease. Due to the treatment that has been introduced, many people who once had the disease are showing “no evidence of disease” (NED). Even with the treatment, their healths together with their well-being states are still the same to individuals living with long-term, chronic concerns. This is because of lack of appropriate counseling given to these individuals to deal with psychological effects of cancer. The psychological needs of cancer patients have been assumed by many. There are also other caregivers who do not understand the psychological needs of cancer patients. They fail to recognize the psychological needs to these patients, and due to this, they inadequately address psychological symptoms of the disease, such as depression and stress among others.

Current Statistics of Cancer

By 1st January 2014, there were was about 14.5 million people living in America with the history of cancer (Eheman, 2014). Among these individuals, there were those who were diagnosed recently and they are in the process of treatment. And, others were diagnosed in the past and are not having evidence of cancer.

In the year 2016, it is expected that approximately 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be determined (Appendix 3). 595,690 people in America are expected to die of cancer by the end of the year 2016 (Ward et al., 2015). This is equivalent to approximately 1,630 people in a day. Out of the cause of death in the United States, cancer is ranked the second cause of death in the country. Heart disease is ranked number one. 1 of every 4 deaths that occur each and every day, one is as a result of cancer.

The progress against cancer can be evident from the trends in cancer death rates. In the 20th century, the death rates as a result of cancer went up. This is as a result of the epidemic of tobacco. The peak in death rates was seen in the year 1991 with 215 deaths from cancer per 100 patients. However, there was a drop in the death rate by 23 percent due to a reduction in smoking. Also, the improvement made in early detection and treatment also causes a reduction in the cancer death cases. The death rates went down for the most common types of cancer, that is, prostate, breast, colorectal, and lung cancer (Jacobsen & Andrykowski, 2015).

Most cases of cancer are evident in the elderly people. 86 percent of cancer in America is diagnosed in people aged 50 years and above. The risk associated with cancer is also increased by some behaviors, such as not being physically active, eating an unhealthy diet, and smoking among others. The term lifetime risk is usually used when it comes to cancer to refer to those who will develop or die from cancer during their lifetime. The lifetime risk of developing cancer in the United States is 42 percent in men. This translates to one in two men. While in the female, the lifetime risk is 38 percent meaning 1 in 3 female.

There is survival rate for cancer. Out of the five-year relative survival rate for people who are diagnosed with cancer, the rate was 49 percent during 1975-1977 and 69 percent for 2005-2011 (Siegel, Miller, & Jemal, 2015). The improvement in the survival rate is as a result of the early determination of cancer and treatment improvement. However, the statistics related to survival rate also differs with regards to the form of cancer and diagnosis stage.

Psychological issues

The diagnosis of cancer comes in with a negative potential to impact each and every aspect of life of an individual. This includes psychological, physical, interpersonal, spiritual, and vocational domain. If one does a comparison with individuals who have not had cancer, those diagnosed with cancer are more likely to have poor health, psychological problems, and functional limitations, such as not having the ability to work or drive.

In a research that was performed of self-identified individuals diagnosed with cancer, 73 percent of these respondents stated that they experienced high levels of depression, stress, and anxiety due to their cancer, 60 percent stated that they has relationship issues, and 83 percent reported that they has a decrease in their income (Kazak & Noll, 2015). Therefore, this implies that individuals diagnosed with cancer are likely to have these problems, that is, depression, stress, anxiety, relationship issues, and reduced income due to inability to work among other issues. Moreover, about a half of the participants in the survey stated that they lack the required resources to meet their emotional and practical needs. These individuals further stated that meeting emotional and practical side effects of cancer was more difficult compared to medical consequences.

Psychological symptom of cancer

Individuals diagnosed with cancer develop certain psychological symptoms. One major symptom evident in these individuals is psychological stress. Usually, psychological stress explains what individuals are feeling when they are under emotional, physical, or mental pressure. However, it is normal for people to experience optimal level of psychological stress in their daily lives. But when this level is high then there might some problems with a person. Also, there might be problem when one experiences psychological stress over a long period of time and repeatedly. Patients or individuals diagnosed with cancer have been suffering from psychological stress. Individuals with cancer may find the social, emotional, and physical effects of this disease to be very stressful. Due to these problems, many people with cancer have ended up having a poor quality of life since some of them have been trying to make use of risky methods to manage the problems they are going through. Some of these methods are becoming more sedentary, drinking alcohol, and smoking among others. On the other hand, reduced levels of stress, anxiety, and depression have been seen in people who have managed to make good use of effective strategies for coping, such as stress management and relaxation techniques.  Through many researches that have been carried out, it has been found that psychological stress has the ability to increase the rate at which tumor grows and spread (Hallek et al., 2008). There are studies that have managed to show that when mice having human tumors were kept isolated or confined from others and in conditions that increases the levels of stress, there tumors were likely to metastasize, that is, the tumors were likely to grow and spread to other parts. In another experiment, chronically stressing a mouse that has a tumor transplanted into the mammary fat pads makes the tumor to spread to lymph nodes and lungs (Appendix 5).

Apart from psychological stress, there are also signs for depression, fear, and anxiety. Cancer directly affects emotional health of its patients. The diagnosis of cancer usually has large negative effects on people. This negative impact brings in the feeling of depression, fear, and anxiety. These feelings are now taken as normal response when it comes to this life threatening disease. Many things have the ability to cause these feelings among them change in body image. Change in body image impacts negatively self-confidence and esteem of patients who been diagnosed with cancer. The work and family role of people is affected by such a situation. Some of the physical symptoms such as extreme tiredness, nausea, and pain among others cause emotional distress. Unpleasant feelings will emerge due to emotional distress, hence making it a problem to cope with the issue at hand for many people. A small amount of distress is normal, but a higher level is not good.

Things that causes social and emotional issues in cancer

There are some things that may make individuals to experience social and emotional issues after cancer diagnosis. Below are the following:

Cancer factors

–          Being diagnosed with cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (advanced disease)

–          Experience many treatment related side effects

–          Severe and frequent pain

–          Problems related to body image, that is, feeling and thoughts

–          Having life-expectancy that is limited (poor prognosis)

–          Having many side effects from cancer that are negatively affecting the ability to perform things that one would normally do

–          Long-lasting or extreme tiredness

–          Lymphoedema

Physical factors

Cancer treatment, such as hormonal treatment, radiotherapy, and chemothepy has direct physical effects on cancer patients. These effects have been known to cause psychological problems and in some cases making them worse. Some of the physical side effects that cause emotional problems are:

–          Feeling exhausted, that is, fatigue

–          Pain

–          Nausea (feeling sick in the stomach) and vomiting

–          Sexual problems

–          Fertility problems

–          Problem with sleep

–          Menopausal symptoms and hormonal changes

Treatment of Cancer

The treatment for cancer differs according to the type of cancer, health status, age, the stage of cancer, and personal characteristics. No single treatment can be linked to cancer. Usually, patients are given a combination of palliative care and therapies (Kazak & Noll, 2015). The emotional symptoms, such as stress, depression, fear, and anxiety among others can best be treated through therapies.

Therapies are very important. It helps a patient to develop awareness of what he or she feels, why he or she feels that way, what the triggers are, and how one might change reactions to them. Among the different methods that are available, there are methods that teach people practical methods related to reframing negative change behaviors and thinking. Getting the correct mental health specialist will be a good step when it comes to dealing with psychological symptoms of cancer. There are a number of types of mental health specialists (Welch & Black, 2010). So while choosing a therapist, one should consider the connection that can be built between him or her and the therapist.

Counseling theories

Two approaches can be used to help a cancer patient having psychological symptoms. The first approach is psychodynamic approach. Through this approach, focus will be directed on getting to know where the symptom or problem of a patient came from. A therapist will help a cancer patient be familiar with the way the past is repeated in the present. Attachment theories have become very common in psychodynamic approach (Schuhmacher et al., 2010). These theories apply neurobiological and empirically-based research to get to know problematic relationship styles. Some scientific studies that have been done on attachment relating to issues of a sedentary life in cancer patients have shown that issues in relationships can be predicted from early patterns of attachment. Therapists who employ attachment-based approaches have a goal of healing unconscious biological and psychological processes in the brain. They also have the objective of promoting the growth of higher-level capacities. Some of these capacities are the ability to be aware of and reflect what is taking place in the mind of a person, those of others, and be able to sort out one from the other. This method has been found to be very important in teaching an elderly person on ways to react, which optimized brain and psychological development of children. This will help improve the relationship between the two groups.

Another approach that can help cancer patients who are suffering from psychological symptoms is cognitive-behavioral approaches. Through this approach, a therapist will be required to learn, recognize, and alter maladaptive thoughts patterns together with behaviors. Other things that also need to the carried out is to improve the way that worries and feeling are being handled by a patient who is experiencing some psychological symptoms. Also, breaking the dysfunctional habitual behaviors should be performed. This type of perspective will help a patient with cancer to see the connection that is present between what they are telling themselves, how they are thinking, and the feelings together with actions that follow. Under the cognitive-behavioral approaches, a therapist has the option of deciding whether to make use of systematic or interpersonal approach (Kipps, 2008). When it comes to making use of interpersonal approach while dealing with a patient who is experiencing some psychological symptoms of cancer, a therapist will be forced to direct emphasis of establishing and getting to know patterns that are self-defeating in a relationship, figuring out why a certain situation is taking place in a particular context, altering patterns that are not working, and improving the ones that are healthy. A lot of attentions when it comes to this approach will be directed towards the here-and-now and the relationships. With regards to systematic approach, getting to know the issue in a contextual framework together with directing attention on getting to know and shifting the current dynamics of relationships, workplace setting, and families will be required (Hallek et al., 2008). The behavior and roles that will be taken by an individual in a particular context or family will be understood by establishing the rules that are unspoken of that interaction or system among its members. Changing any part of group system or family system will be a better path to changing dynamics and symptoms of cancer. This will be whether or not the client who is identified is directly taking place in those changes. As per this form of therapy, a cancer patient having psychological symptoms is viewed as part of the whole system sustaining or creating the problem. This method has been gotten to be very important in cases where a person tries to resist therapy or the process of change. It is very significant because it plays a bigger role in opening up other avenues for delivering intervention.

Counseling treatment plan

Diagnosis of cancer is frightening and life-altering. People who are suffering from cancer, such as the woman in question in this scenario requires are safe place to discuss their suffering. A safe place to do this is with a counselor. A counselor should help those diagnosed with cancer. One should enable a patient to cope with the impact of diagnosis. Counseling should be directed towards enabling a person diagnosed with cancer explore different ways of coping with their diagnosis, managing their emotional concerns, such as confusion, anger, anxiety, depression that may arise due to getting news related to the disease, and discussion on strategies for coping and addressing any form of life changes that may be required (Counseling, 2012). For instance, many people who are diagnosed with cancer may have fear related to not being able to work, losing their income together with health insurance. People who are having families may experience distress related to sharing cancer news with a spouse or partner and children who may be in the picture (American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention, 2015). During counseling a counselor should perform the following so as to assist a patient diagnosed with cancer like the woman in our case:

–          Offer support and understanding so as to build a rapport the is effectively working

–          Develop a good relationships with nurses and doctors, especially those who have the responsibility of dealing with cancer patients since this will enable a counselor know more about cancer

–          Coordinate many different aspects of treatment so as to assist a patient to get the best possible care.

Also, counseling can also be extended to family members since this will be very important in assisting the family members of people diagnosed with cancer learn different ways to effectively manage varied emotions that may arise, such as grief, stress, and sadness.

Other methods

There is body-mind intervention. This is administered by mind-body intervention specialists. The practices provided by this intervention are meditation and yoga. These are meant to complement cancer treatments being administered to patients. They impact the quality of life for patients positively together with their families. Through this process, patients are helped to relax and also enjoy mindfulness. Mindfulness entails the present moment. It does not involve judgment together with realizing one’s potential for kindness and love. Cancer is known to affect people in some ways. These patients are affected by the disease itself; treatment plans together with its side effects, such as fatigue. While facing the stress attributed to cancer, they also have to manage other aspects of their lives and work. Yoga among the mind-body practices gives a person the opportunity to readily accept their situation. It also makes it possible for one to face the facts and be in control of the entire situation. One also gets a chance to benefit from physical benefits that are very great. Research that was recently carried out managed to prove that mind-body practices, benefits patients in the following ways: help patients to manage and cope with stress, improve sleep, reduce the side effects associated with treatment (such as cognitive dysfunction and fatigue), and enhances the quality of life and physical well-being.

Another method is behavioral intervention. Behavioral intervention, when combined with other forms of treatment, plays a significant role in enhancing recovery process of a patient. Increasingly aggressive methods have been used in the treatment of cancer. These treatment methods have called for the need of an effective method for managing the side-effects of the aggressive treatment methods. Some of the side-effects that can be managed by the behavioral intervention are nausea and pain among other side-effects that are aversive.  Behavioral treatment works through controlling anticipatory vomiting and nausea. This has been evident both in pediatric and adult cancer patients, especially those who are in the process of chemotherapy. The behavioral methods integrated by this form of treatment assists when it comes to ameliorating distress and anxiety associated with cancer and its treatment. Among the behavioral treatments is hypnotic –like method. The hypnotic –like method entails distracting imagery, suggestion, and relaxation provides the greatest promise when it comes to the management of pain.


Biblical Perspective of Cancer

Being diagnosed with cancer is a life-changing event. Sympathy, sadness, and sorrow are some of the responses that come to a person. Helplessness and uncertainty are some of the emotional impacts that may dominate a person. There are other people that may give up in resignation. But that is not the end of life. The bible tries to encourage those who have been diagnosed with cancer not to give up with life. According to the Bible, if a person has cancer, God has not forgotten the person or the family members. A person who has cancer should know that the love of God lasts forever. According to the Isaiah 41:10, God states that “…no person should have fear because I am with you, you should also not be dismayed since I am your God: I will give you strength, I will assist you, I will also support you in all situations with my victorious right hand…” (Counseling, 2012).

Homework assignments

Many cancer patients only rely on pharmacological intervention. Those who are diagnosed with cancer should consider other intervention or they should combine pharmacological intervention and non-pharmacological interventions. One should inquire from professionals about things like physical activities, yoga, and meditation among others. Those who feel hopeless and helpless should also try to talk to someone, such as a church leader.


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Appendix 1

Normal cells may become cancer cells. Before cancer cells form in tissues of the body, the cells go through abnormal changes called hyperplasia and dysplasia. In hyperplasia, there is an increase in the number of cells in an organ or tissue that appear normal under a microscope. In dysplasia, the cells look abnormal under a microscope but are not cancer. Hyperplasia and dysplasia may or may not become cancer.

Appendix 2

Soft tissue sarcoma forms in soft tissues of the body, including muscle, tendons, fat, blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves, and tissue around joints.

Appendix 3

Estimated Number* of New Cancer Cases and Deaths by Sex, US, 2016

  Estimated New Cases Estimated Deaths
All sites Both sexes Male Female Both sexes Male Female
  1,685,210 841,390 843,820 595,690 314,290 281,400

Appendix 4

Individual types of cancer


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