Cancer, and also its medical treatments, leads to a broad variety of physical and psychosocial problems. These range from physical pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and strain on personal relationships creating a deep impact on quality of life. As a result, the demand for psychosocial interventions to treat and support patients with cancer disease and cancer survivors has dramatically increased over the last decades.
Cancer may disrupt a patient’s feeling of purpose and poses a challenge to the premorbid coherent self and world concept. Many patients report existential or spiritual distress. There is now growing attention on the important role of the sense of meaning in improving psychological well-being and reducing psychological distress among cancer patients. Patients who experience more meaning in life have higher psychological well-being, a more successful adjustment, better quality of life, and less psychological distress after the cancer diagnosis than patients who experience little life meaning.
Research in psycho-oncology essentially contributes to our understanding of body-mind interaction and has been challenging a more or less mechanical view of cancer disease. The psycho-oncological therapeutic approach has become a crucial tool in the care of cancer patients, improving not only physical and psychiatric symptoms, but also quality of life. The standard management of psychiatric diseases is not sufficient for this special field, and psychotherapy has to be adapted to life-threatening conditions, as well as arising existential questions and spiritual needs.
Psychosocial issues may modulate the course of the disease, but mainly have a deep impact on patients’ physical and mental wellbeing. Psycho-oncology has risen as a relatively new interdisciplinary field with the aim of addressing these issues and providing support for patients confronting numerous challenges throughout the different stages of the disease.