What worries cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy the most

Cancer patients today are worried more about the effects of their illness on their partner or family than the physical side effects of chemotherapy, new research has found.

The study presented at European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) 2017 Congress in Madrid, Spain, showed that socio-psychological factors have become more significant for patients today than physical side-effects such as nausea and vomiting.

“What we found is that, on the one hand, side effects like nausea and vomiting are no longer a major problem for patients — this can be explained by the fact that modern medication against these symptoms is very effective,” study author Beyhan Ataseven from Kliniken Essen Mitte Evang, Huyssens-Stiftung in Essen, Germany.

“On the other hand, hair loss is still a persistent, unsolved issue that particularly affects patients at the start of their treatment,” Ataseven said.

“As time passes and patients get used to this, however, their concerns evolve and other side effects become more significant,” Ataseven added.

The team led by Ataseven focused exclusively on breast and ovarian cancer patients and added a longitudinal analysis by carrying out three separate interviews before, during and at the end of their chemotherapy.

At each interview, 141 patients scheduled for or undergoing chemotherapy were presented with two groups of cards respectively featuring physical and non-physical side effects.

The patients selected their five most burdensome symptoms in each group and ranked them by importance.

Out of these 10 main side effects, they were then asked to select the five most significant ones from both groups and to rank these as well.

“Looking at patients’ perceptions over the entire course of their chemotherapy, the most difficult side effects they deal with are sleep disorders – which become increasingly important over time – and anxiety about the effects of their illness on their partner or family, which remains a top issue throughout,” Ataseven explained.

“As doctors, these findings might lead us to consider possible improvements to the accompanying therapies we offer our patients: For instance, sleeping tablets were not until now a part of the routine regimen,” Ataseven added.

“There is also a clear case for providing stronger psychological support to address patients’ social anxieties and family-related concerns,” she said.

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