‘Feeling better’ goes beyond cancer treatment

Addressing spiritual concerns, stress levels of cancer patients helps them have a much better life experience.

Doctor meeting patient

Non-medicinal efforts to help patients reduce their stress levels, cope with fatigue and deal with uncertainty helps them feel much better during cancer treatment, new Mayo clinic study says.

Mayo cancer care specialists designed programme with six sessions for dealing with number of dimensions of life including cognitive, physical, emotional, social and spiritual. In every session the patient underwent physical exercises to improve fatigue, discussed ways to develop coping strategies or to address spiritual concerns, undertook deep breathing drills and learnt ways to reduce stress through guided imagery.

Obviously patients focussed most on their battle with cancer. But the wellbeing dimensions like fatigue, stress, and spiritual uncertainty can affect patients' quality of life very badly during and after treatment. The study's lead author, psychologist Matthew M. Clark, Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, explained that previous studies focussed on only one quality-of-life aspect at a time and usually only after cancer treatment.

In this randomised trial, his team investigated a set of 113 patients with advanced cancer. A majority of participants [63 per cent] were 50 year old men. Half of participants continued with their regular routine during treatment [for instance, seeing their own therapists, counsellors or clergy], while the other half attended these specially designed, 90-minute programme three days a week.

"Much of the success may be that the program is active and engaged, and patients participated in the sessions as part of a group. They received support and encouragement to go home and practise things like physical activity, spirituality and relaxation," Dr. Clark says.

The study also threw up a cautionary advice. The improvement in these quality-of-life measures is short-lived. In a follow-up questionnaire conducted six months after treatment, these measured dropped.

"The intervention is helpful at a critical time, but doesn't have a lasting continuous enhancing effect," Dr. Clark says. "Our hope is to develop strategies to help people maintain and then improve their quality of life throughout survivorship."

The study was funded by the Linse Bock Foundation and Mayo Clinic.

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