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Inadequate Mental Therapy Cited For Cancer Patients in US

The U.S. Institute of Medicine has released a study calling for uniform standards of emotional therapy for cancer patients. VOA's Melinda Smith has more on the study.

These cancer survivors are sharing their stories of pain -- not just the pain of surgery or chemotherapy -- but the anxiety and depression which lingers long after treatment.

Beth Leibson-Hawkins is a cancer survivor. She says, "It would have been really nice to have somebody help me think about what it means to have cancer and how that affects the rest of your life."

While the study acknowledges that medical treatment for cancer has taken great strides, it says the emotional scars of these potentially life-threatening diseases are often left untreated. The report is especially critical of that lack of treatment at 20 of the nation's best cancer care hospitals. Only eight have routine psychological screening -- and that is offered only to some patients, not all.

"We have to take a wider view and treat the whole patient and take care of all of their needs, including their cancer," says Dr. Lee Schwartzberg, a cancer specialist at the West Clinic in Memphis, Tennessee.

At the West Clinic, patients respond to a questionnaire about their emotional well-being -- before they undergo a physical exam. The study by the Institute of Medicine wants this type of screening done along every step, from diagnosis to the last visit to the doctor.

Breast cancer survivor Karen Suddeth says that would have helped her cope during the many days of chemotherapy. "That was so, so hard for me. I mean, I will never forget the morning I knew my hair was going to have to come off."

The report also criticized medical providers for failing to refer patients to mental health counselors and cancer survivor support groups. One cancer patient found the experience of sharing helpful in recovery. She says, "Besides my family, who else did I have to talk to?"

One positive note: The American Society of Clinical Oncology, made up of cancer specialists, has announced it is offering a new training course to its members on how to be more sensitive to the emotional needs of their patients.