Cancer can be a devastating illness, both physically and emotionally -- not just for the patient, but also for the patient's loved ones. Oncology professionals treat the disease, but unfortunately other serious problems arise during treatment ranging from pain and fatigue to anxiety and depression. Recognizing that these issues exist, Emory University's Winship Cancer Institute has developed a program that utilizes resources available throughout the Emory medical community to help patients and their families cope.
The Quality of Life Program (QOL), one of only a few in the country, is a collaboration between the Winship Cancer Institute and the Mind and Body Program in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Additional participants in the program include the Departments of Medicine, Anesthesiology, and Hematology/Oncology.
"The Quality of Life Program is an important initiative that brings together various academic and medical resources, all for the benefit of our patients," said Jonathan Simons, MD, director of the Winship Cancer Institute. "This program exemplifies Emory's emphasis on innovation and patient-centered care."
The core program consists of medical experts in the treatment of cancer pain, psychiatric oncology, and palliative care, who consult with patients both during and after treatment.
"This flagship program has been developed because the needs of cancer patients go beyond just the basic treatment of the disease," said Diane Thompson, MD, clinical co-director of the program and associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine. "Our mission is to pull together all of the resources that are available throughout the Emory System to address those needs. We also will take advantage of our proximity and partnerships with the Emory's School of Nursing and School of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Cancer Society, to facilitate multi-disciplinary translational research."
All new cancer patients and their families and significant others are invited to participate. Along with measuring temperature, blood pressure and other vitals, the QOL team is addressing the "Sixth Sign" - symptom management. This includes addressing issues such as mood, fatigue, pain, palliative care and other symptoms associated with cancer and cancer therapies. In addition to the core physician team, the program includes nutritional services, spiritual support, individual and group therapy and a patient and family resource center at the Winship Cancer Institute.
Early identification of patients in need of services is important. It has been shown that oncologists who recognize and appropriately respond to patients' complaints about side effects have a much higher rate of compliance to treatment from their patients than those who don't. Addressing emotional issues as well as the physiological issues can alleviate anxiety and encourage the healing process.
"Patients undergoing treatment for cancer deal with a number of issues from beginning to end," said Dr. Thompson. "Often the symptoms can feel overwhelming for both patient and family. We can help the patient to address these cancer-related problems. By managing symptoms we can improve Quality of Life, and that is really what it is all about."