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  • Writer's pictureDr Chasse Bailey-Dorton, MD

Treating Anxiety & Depression During and After Cancer Treatment - by Dr. Chasse Bailey-Dorton, MD

Dr Chasse Bailey-Dorton a physician expert in cancer survivorship

Dr. Chasse Bailey-Dorton, MD, MSPH, FAAFP is board certified in Family medicine and fellowship training in Integrative Medicine through the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. Her passion and expertise are supporting patients newly diagnosed with cancer to develop an evidence-informed treatment through chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Also, evidence-informed strategies to deal with treatment side-effects, recovery from treatment, and risk reduction strategies in survivorship.

When a person first hears the word "cancer" it feels as if they have been thrown into a hurricane, things happen fast and they often feel a loss of control and fear. It is appropriate to have episodes of anxiety and depression feelings during diagnosis, treatment, and sometimes into the uncertainty of survivorship. We now have evidence-based guidelines for treating these symptoms with mindfulness-based interventions. These include yoga, music therapy, acupuncture, tai chi, qigong, and relaxation therapies. Patients and their families are grateful to have methods for treatment that do not involve medication and give them some control.

Anxiety and depression in cancer patients

Anxiety (worrying about what could happen or cancer coming back) or depression (feeling sad about a cancer diagnosis) are common emotions during and after cancer treatment. Guidelines have just been published that give recommendations based on evidence for ways to deal with these emotions without taking a prescription medication.

Integrative oncology is a patient-centered, evidence-informed field of cancer care that utilizes mind and body practices, natural products, and/or lifestyle modifications from different traditions alongside conventional cancer treatments. Integrative oncology aims to optimize health, quality of life, and clinical outcomes across the cancer care continuum and to empower people to prevent cancer and become active participants before, during, and beyond cancer treatment (Society of Integrative Oncology).

How to manage anxiety and depression

The Association of Clinical Oncologist (ASCO) in collaboration with the Society of Integrative Oncology (SIO) have just published evidence-based recommendations to healthcare providers on integrative approaches to managing anxiety and depression symptoms in adults living with cancer.

cancer survivors practicing mindfulness

Specific recommendations include:

  1. Mindfulness based interventions help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in patients during active treatment and post-treatments. These interventions include - meditation, gentle movement, didactic teaching about stress, coping and the mind-body connection, and group support and discussion.

  2. Yoga, in particular therapeutic or restorative Hatha yoga classes, may be offered to people with cancer for both anxiety and depression symptom reduction across the treatment trajectory.

  3. Music therapy, relaxation therapies, and reflexology may be offered to reduce both anxiety and depression symptoms during cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.

  4. Hypnosis and lavender essential oil inhalation may be recommended to help specifically with anxiety symptoms during diagnostic and treatment procedures.

  5. Tai chi or qigong programs may be considered to help alleviate symptoms of both depression and anxiety post-treatment.

  6. Reflexology may be recommended to reduce anxiety symptoms.

  7. Acupuncture may also be considered for women with breast cancer to reduce anxiety.


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