More than half of the people diagnosed with cancer suffer the added complication of clinical depression or anxiety, according to the National Cancer Control Initiative (NCCI).
Marking the start of Mental Health Week (Oct 11), the NCCI is launching a campaign to educate medical and health professionals on the psychosocial problems facing many of the 85,000 people diagnosed with cancer each year. NCCI Director, Professor Mark Elwood, said the campaign would take the form of a national series of workshops, using world-first clinical care guidelines approved by the National Health and Medical Research Council. According to Professor Elwood, health professionals often underestimate the mental health impact of a cancer diagnosis. “This often undetected and untreated emotional fallout can have severe long-term effects, not just for the person with cancer, but for their family, social networks and employment,” he said. Chair of the Psychosocial Guidelines Development and Implementation Group, Dr Jane Turner, said up to 20 per cent of cancer patients had ongoing employment problems. “Apart from the physical impact of the disease the emotional stress often impairs their ability and desire to return to work,” Dr Turner said. National Breast Cancer Centre Director, Dr Helen Zorbas, said psychosocial issues were just as big a problem for cancer patients who experienced a recurrence of the disease. “For example, 50 per cent of breast cancer patients experience clinically significant anxiety and depression when told their cancer has recurred and up to three quarters rate this news as more devastating than their original diagnosis,” Dr Zorbas said. The psychosocial guidelines, funded by the Federal Department of Health and Ageing and developed jointly by the National Breast Cancer Centre and the National Cancer Control Initiative, cover commonly occurring cancers including breast, colorectal, gynaecological, head and neck, lung, melanoma, pancreatic, prostate, urogenital and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The Cancer Council Australia’s Chief Executive Officer, Professor Alan Coates, described the guidelines as “excellent” and said they were written for health professionals who dealt with cancer patients at all stages of care from diagnosis to treatment and palliative care. “They provide an evidence-based guide to help health professionals detect depression or anxiety and ensure patients get the right referrals and treatment,” Professor Coates said.(Source: Cancer Council: October 2004.)