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The psychological impact of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis

Posted by: Guest author 28 September 2018

Helen Miller

The impact of receiving a pancreatic cancer diagnosis often has an emotional and psychological effect as well as physical. Recent NICE guidelines acknowledged the importance of addressing psychological needs of pancreatic cancer patients. We spoke to Helen Miller, a specialist Macmillan Psycho-oncology nurse at The Christie Hospital in Manchester.

What impact can a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer have on a person’s mental health?

 A cancer diagnosis can be devastating for patients, their families and friends. Patients often describe feeling like they are on an emotional roller coaster, as if they are out of control and like their life has been taken over. Patients commonly experience a period of adjustment where they describe mood changes and an increase in worry and anxiety. If they receive treatment, their journey can be physically and emotionally demanding with frequent appointments which can lead to them feeling like they have lost their sense of self. 

What support do patients need if they are suffering psychologically?

Most patients will need time to adjust to their diagnosis. It is important to acknowledge how devastating a diagnosis is and to offer support and information whenever we have contact with them. Asking how they are coping and offering support early if we think they are struggling is very helpful. Using tools such as the Holistic Needs Assessment can help to highlight whether extra input is required to support their emotional and mental health needs. There are lots of services available for people to access support through the NHS and charitable organisations.

Why is it so important that they get that help?

We know that patients who have symptoms of depression and anxiety do less well with treatment. Depression and anxiety are strongly associated with increased morbidity. Mood changes and anxiety can make it difficult to engage with the treatment process or supportive care. Getting to appointments can become impossible and they can be less inclined to report any side effects or concerns about their health or wellbeing which can delay intervention.

What more do you think nurses and other health professionals need to do in order to meet the psychological needs of their patients?

In the past few years there has been increased awareness of mental health issues and the impact that they can have on people’s lives. The most important thing we can do is to ask how patients are coping and to provide care for mental health as part of the treatment we provide. Early diagnosis of mental health problems and appropriate intervention from specialist services is crucial in providing good care. Helen will be speaking at the National Study Day for Clinical Nurse Specialists and dietitians on Monday 15th October in Birmingham.

If you need help or support, whether you have the disease or know someone with it, you can always call our Support Line on 0808 801 0707.