Integrating cancer care – holistic support for patients
Every year in Australia, around 162,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer (not counting the most common skin cancers). But the good news is in recent decades more and more people are surviving cancer.1
Caring for people with cancer takes a great support team with different skills. Doctors, specialists, therapists, and other experts all work together to help patients with treatments including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy. Other support services such as rehabilitation for physical strength, psychotherapy for helping with worry and stress, and spiritual wellbeing may also be required.1,2 Involvement of the support team caring for people living with cancer is referred to as integrative care.
A cancer care team with different experts working together place the patient at the centre of their care. They empower their patients to become an important part of their own health journey. Patients are given the knowledge and tools to make informed decisions about their own health. When patients are actively involved in their care and feel heard, they may experience better outcomes, reduced anxiety, and an improved quality of life.3
Support for people living with cancer
Staying healthy in body and mind is a crucial part of the journey of a person living with cancer. Everyone on the integrative care team communicates and works together to help patients and their families from the moment they find out they have cancer until after treatment has ended.1 In some cases this may include end-of-life care.
Therapies and support services for people living with cancer include:1
- Physiotherapy - helps the patient with cancer with their mobility, independence, symptom relief, and pain)
- Psychotherapy – helps the patient with cancer and their families and carers with emotional difficulty, worry, and adjusting to life
- Occupational therapy - helps patients perform everyday tasks
- Social workers - help patients access the necessary services
- Dietitians - help patients eat well
- And people are also there to help with spiritual well being
Other helpful therapies, depending on cancer type, may include, but are not limited to:1
- Massage including lymphatic drainage to support lymphoedema (swelling)
- Music and art therapy
- Speech and language therapy
These therapies and support services aim to improve the patient’s symptoms, and quality of life and enhance the benefits of cancer treatment.1
Eating a nourishing diet can help you cope with cancer and its treatments. Research shows that eating well before, during and after cancer treatment can help:4,5
- improve quality of life by giving you more energy, maintaining your muscle mass and strength, helping you stay a healthy weight, and boosting mood
- your body cope with the side effects of treatment, improve how well treatment works, reduce length of hospital stays, and speed up recovery
- heal wounds and rebuild damaged tissues after surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and other treatment
- improve your immune system and ability to fight infections
- reduce the risk of cancer coming back (recurrence)
It is recommended that patients keep an eye on any treatment symptoms and/or side effects that affect their ability to eat, stay hydrated, or maintain weight and speak with their care team if they have any questions or concerns.
Recent research has shown that physical activity can influence cancer outcomes and play a pivotal role in cancer survivorship.6-8 Exercise is something that you can do to help your body help itself following a cancer diagnosis.6,7 It may be an important part of your overall treatment, regardless of the type of treatment you may have, such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy or a combination of any of these. Being physically active after a cancer diagnosis may help to reduce the risk of recurrence and progression as well as improve survival for several cancer types.9,10
Every person’s circumstances are unique and should be taken into account. It is recommended that patients speak with their care team about developing an appropriate exercise program.
Living with cancer can be a very difficult time for patients and their families and friends, with each facing their own challenges and facing difficult decisions. These can include difficulty accepting the diagnosis, challenges of cancer treatments and their side effects, troubles with memory and thinking clearly, and coming to terms with what might happen in the future. They may also not feel good about what is happening to their bodies and how it affects their personal relationships. All these challenges can leave people living with cancer feeling distressed, anxious, and depressed.11,12
But there are ways to help this. Talking to someone who knows how to help, like a psychologist or therapist, can make a big difference. There are also support groups with other people going through similar challenges. Mindfulness exercises and stress reduction can help too. Some patients may be prescribed medicines to help them through these difficult times. These are all things that can help with the psychological wellbeing of people living with cancer and their loved ones.11,12
In times of extreme emotional distress or if the patient is considering self-harm, emergency services can be contacted by calling 000.
There are many different challenges that can face a person during and after a cancer diagnosis. But there are many experts and services that work together as part of the cancer care team to place the patient at the centre of care, help them manage their challenges, and empower them to be an integral part of their own journey. Considering the adoption of supportive integrative care may help improve outcomes for cancer patients, patients, plus their family and friends are recommended to contact their treatment team to discuss questions and appropriate care options.
Any medical procedure or treatment involving the use of radiation carries risks, including skin irritation and associated pain. Before proceeding with treatment, you should discuss the risks and benefits of the treatment with an appropriately qualified health practitioner. Individual treatment outcomes and experiences will vary. This information does not represent the outcome in your particular situation.
- Cancer Australia, Commonwealth Government of Australia. Cancer in Australia Statistics. Available at: https://www.canceraustralia.gov.au/impacted-cancer/what-cancer/cancer-australia-statistics [Accessed 05 October 2023.
- Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, New South Wales Government. Cancer Treatment. Available here: https://www.wslhd.health.nsw.gov.au/crown-princess-mary-cancer-centre/patient-care/treatment [Access 05 October 2023]
- Selby P, Popescu R, Lawler M, Butcher H, Costa A. The Value and Future Developments of Multidisciplinary Team Cancer Care. Am Soc Clin Oncol Educ Book. 2019 Jan;39:332-340.
- Loeliger J, Dewar S 2019, The CanEAT pathway for people with cancer and their carers: A guide to optimal cancer nutrition care, Victorian Cancer Malnutrition Collaborative, Melbourne. Available from: https://www.petermac.org/services/treatment/AlliedHealth/nutrition/CanEATpathway/caneat-pathway-people-cancer-their-carers (accessed October 2023).
- Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. Oncology nutrition. Available from: https://www.mylifehouse.org.au/services/allied-health/oncologynutrition/#1599004836127-3fa3437f-a191 (accessed October 2023).
- Fuller JT, et al. Br J Sports Med 2018;52(20):1311.
- Campbell KL, et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2019;51(11):2375–2390.
- Hayes SC, et al. J Sci Med Sport 2019;22(11):1175–1199.
- Friedenreich CM, et al. Clin Cancer Res 2016;22(19):4766–4775.
- McTiernan A, et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2019;51(6):1252–1261.
- Grassi L, Spiegel D, Riba M. F1000Res. 2017;;6:2083.
- Semenenko E, Banerjee S, Olver I, Ashinze P. Support Care Cancer. 2023;31(4):210. doi: 10.1007/s00520-023-07675-w. PMID: 36913136.