Emotional distress and psychiatric disorders are common among patients with advanced cancer. Oncologists play an important role in screening for these conditions, providing first-line treatment and referring patients for further evaluation and treatment when indicated.
The literature on psycho-oncology was reviewed, focusing on the epidemiology, assessment, and treatment of psychiatric disorders (adjustment disorders, major depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress, personality disorders, substance abuse, and major mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) in patients with advanced cancer. Communication skills and the role of the oncologist in dealing with end-of-life issues were also reviewed. Relevant data were summarized from the most recent systematic reviews, epidemiological studies, and intervention trials. Clinical recommendations are provided.
About 50% of patients with advanced cancer meet criteria for a psychiatric disorder, the most common being adjustment disorders (11%–35%) and major depression (5%–26%). Both psychosocial and pharmacological treatments are effective for anxiety and depression, although existing studies have methodological limitations. Collaboration with mental health specialists is recommended for patients with personality disorders, major mental illness, and substance abuse problems. Effective communication involves active listening, exploring emotion and meaning, addressing prognosis, and discussing end-of-life issues when relevant.
Treating psychiatric conditions improves quality of life in patients with advanced cancer. Oncologists play a key role in screening for psychiatric disorders, initiating first-line treatments for depression and anxiety, and communicating with patients and caregivers about prognosis and end-of-life issues. Cancer 2007. © 2007 American Cancer Society.