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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 23:59 GMT 00:59 UK
'Lack of support' for cancer patients
Doctors should look for signs of depression in cancer patients
Doctors should look for signs of depression in cancer patients
Cancer patients are missing out on help for anxiety and depression, says the Cancer Research Campaign.

Scientists say hard-pressed doctors fail to spot the signs.

The study, published in the British Journal of Oncology, found a 250,000 UK cancer patients have some kind of depression or anxiety.

In addition to the physical symptoms they have to bear, the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) said patients have the stress and worry associated with a diagnosis of cancer.

Being diagnosed with cancer is often a traumatic experience and for many people it's a time when they need extra support

Professor Lesley Fallowfield,
If patients' depression was picked up, they could be referred for counselling or specialist help.

Researchers quizzed 2,300 people at 34 hospitals across the UK.

Over a third felt they might benefit from some kind of psychological support.

But the 143 cancer specialists questioned estimated there were just a quarter of that number.

The CRC estimates this shortfall may mean up to 180,000 people in the UK are not receiving the help they need.

'A traumatic experience'

Professor Lesley Fallowfield, of the University of Sussex in Brighton, who led the research, said: "Being diagnosed with cancer is often a traumatic experience and for many people it's a time when they need extra support."

The CRC is calling for doctors to receive standard training on communication with patients, so that they can find out whether they need help for depression or anxiety.

Patients have been shown to benefit when doctors have received training.

Questionnaires for patients to complete before they see the doctor, or touch-screen information on computers for patients to access information are also suggested.

Ruth Lesirge, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "People experiencing physical illnesses or long term health problems frequently find themselves becoming depressed or anxious, but all too often this is seen by doctors as just something that has to be coped with.

"We need to ensure that anybody experiencing mental health problems such as anxiety or depression is able to get the support they need - whether this be medication, talking treatments or alternative or complementary therapies - as soon as they first need it.

"People's needs should not be ignored.

"This is why we recommend that all GPs, for example, should have on-going training to develop their understanding of mental health problems and their impact on people's lives - and this should clearly apply to cancer doctors too."

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the CRC said: "Being diagnosed and treated for cancer is a very stressful time and it is vital that people who need a little extra help are provided for."

Professor Mike Richards, the Cancer Tsar, said: "Development of guidance on supportive and palliative care services is one of the key elements of the NHS Cancer Plan.

"The guidance will cover the assessment of psychological distress and the provision of psychological support."

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