What is psycho-oncology?

Psycho-oncology is a specialized branch between medicine and psychology that deals with the relationships between behavior, health and disease states, prevention and treatment, promotion of healthy habits and interdisciplinarity.

Oncological psychology is a branch of psychology in charge of the study and psychotherapy of cancer patients and their families, offering them the necessary tools to face the diagnosis and treatment of any type of cancer.

Through psychotherapy, the therapist orients and provides emotional support to the patient at all stages of the disease, especially in adapting to the psychological and physical disorders involved in treatments and surgical operations (such as hair loss caused by chemotherapy, or breast removal in the case of breast cancer). In addition, in the event that the type of cancer or its late detection does not allow a diagnosis or a hopeful or curative treatment of the patient, oncological psychology deals with the accompaniment and guidance of family members throughout the process of the disease and grief, detecting the development of pathological reactions typical of this type of process.

Why is it performed?

Psycho-oncology is part of clinical and health psychology. It helps cancer patients and their families to channel their emotions in a healthy way. The aim is to improve the patient’s quality of life, improve adherence to medical treatment and patient self-care, as well as to restore personal and family balance during and after the disease.

Treatment can be carried out at any stage of the disease, whether during diagnosis, treatment, survival, relapse, end of life or bereavement, and helps to promote active coping styles.

Some of the psychological needs that patients and/or family members may require may include:

  • Coping with illness
  • Diagnostic shock
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and fear management
  • Relaxation
  • Preparation for hospitalization and treatments
  • Preparation for chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • Side effects of treatments
  • Pain management
  • Sexuality after cancer
  • Palliative care
  • Rehabilitation
  • Grief and bereavement prevention and support
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Psycho-oncology helps to improve the quality of life of patients and their families.

What does it consist of?

Psycho-oncology has several treatments available to help patients and their families. Treatment may include individual, family, group or hypnosis and relaxation psychotherapy.

At the time of diagnosis and treatment, psychoeducation offers a greater sense of control to the patient. It improves the patient’s attitude towards medical tests or self-care.

During treatment, depending on the individual situation of each patient, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy facilitates some useful techniques:

  • Cognitive reconstruction allows to improve the interpretation of the health problem, to achieve positive emotions and to overcome states of sadness or depression.
  • Relaxation improves anxiety, fears or insomnia.
  • Emotional and behavioral self-management techniques can help overcome phobias to needles, hospitals, among others.

Finally, Interpersonal Therapy can benefit the patient to improve and adapt in family relationships, help to process the change of role (from healthy to sick person) and family and self-image changes. Also for loss or bereavement situations.

Preparation for psycho-oncology

Psycho-oncology does not require any special preparation. It is common for people suffering from cancer to present some psychological alteration susceptible to be treated by means of psycho-oncology. In fact, it is estimated that between 30 and 50% of patients suffer from some disorder, including anxiety, adaptation and depression, which, if not treated correctly, can cause other emotional or physical problems.

Post-procedure care

After overcoming a cancer it may be necessary to continue to require psychological help, due to the sequelae or side effects of the treatment undergone, in addition to helping to regain normality. In cases of relapse or, in the worst case, loss, psycho-oncology can also help the patient and family members with bereavement.