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Breast Cancer: Psychology Helps Mind and Body

October 27, 2012|Counseling & Psychotherapy

Every year, over 225,000 women, as well as men, will be diagnosed with breast cancer. In addition to medical treatments, research has shown the psychological interventions and support can have a significant impact on survival and quality of life. And, psychological interventions can also help partners and children.

The APA website offers the following information – excerpts –

Why is it important to seek psychological help?

Feeling overwhelmed is a perfectly normal response to a breast cancer diagnosis.

But negative emotions can cause women to stop doing things that are good for them and start doing things that are bad for anyone but especially worrisome for those with a serious disease.

Women with breast cancer may start eating poorly, for instance, eating fewer meals and choosing foods of lower nutritional value. They may cut back on their exercise. They may have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. And they may withdraw from family and friends. At the same time, these women may use alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, or other drugs in an attempt to soothe themselves.

Depression can also decrease women’s survival, research shows. According to one analysis, mortality rates were as much as 26 times higher in patients with depressive symptoms and 39 times higher in patients who had been diagnosed with major depression.2

How can psychological treatment help women adjust?

Licensed psychologists and other mental health professionals with experience in breast cancer treatment can help a great deal. Their primary goal is to help women learn how to cope with the physical, emotional, and lifestyle changes associated with cancer as well as with medical treatments that can be painful and traumatic.

For some women, the focus may be on how to explain their illness to their children or how to deal with a partner’s response. For others, it may be on how to choose the right hospital or medical treatment. For still others, it may be on how to control stress, anxiety, or depression. By teaching patients problem-solving strategies in a supportive environment, psychologists help women work through their grief, fear, and other emotions. For many women, this life-threatening crisis eventually proves to be an opportunity for life-enhancing personal growth.

Can psychological treatment help the body, too?

Absolutely. Take the nausea and vomiting that often accompany chemotherapy, for example. For some women, these side effects can be severe enough to make them reject further treatment efforts. Psychologists can teach women relaxation exercises, meditation, self-hypnosis, imagery, or other skills that can effectively relieve nausea without the side effects of pharmaceutical approaches.

Psychologists can also empower women to make more informed choices in the face of often-conflicting advice and can help them communicate more effectively with their health care providers. In short, psychologists can help women become more fully engaged in their own treatment. The result is an enhanced understanding of the disease and its treatment and a greater willingness to do what needs to be done to get well again.Psychological treatment may even boost women’s chances of survival. In one study, for instance, a decrease in depression symptoms was associated with longer survival in patients with metastatic breast cancer.4

Such findings underscore the importance of psychological interventions. In one study, researchers examined the impact of psychologist-led small group sessions that offered strategies for reducing stress, improving mood, changing health-related behaviors, and adhering to treatment and care.5 The breast cancer patients who participated in the groups had a 45 percent lower risk of their cancer coming back and a 56 percent lower risk of dying from breast cancer. The results were even more impressive when the researchers excluded patients who attended fewer than 20 percent of the sessions: The remaining participants’ risk of dying from breast cancer was 68 percent lower.

via Breast Cancer: How Your Mind Can Help Your Body.

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