Despite the efforts of doctors, scientists and healthcare providers to cut the toll of cancer, there is still a very long way to go. In a recent major study, conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2008, cancer and deaths from it worldwide were on the increase. In developed countries, cancers are the second leading cause of death after heart disease.1
Naturally, when a person is diagnosed with cancer, attention turns to treating the disease, be it through surgery, medicines, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or other therapies. But fighting cancer has an emotional impact too, and often, in the race to eradicate the tumour, the shock that the initial diagnosis has on the person can be overlooked.
But this oversight can have potentially damaging effects. Recent studies have shown that the psychological state of patients has a significant impact on treatment response and survival rates, as well as quality of life. 2
Treating both mind and body
One country in eastern Europe is trying a more holistic approach, through support from GSK. In Lithuania, care for recently-diagnosed cancer patients has traditionally focused on medicinal treatment. The healthcare system does not have the structures in place to address the psychological and social aspects of being diagnosed with cancer.
Responding to this, and through a recently formed partnership with the Onco-psychology and Communication Centre in Lithuania, we launched the ‘Loving Life’ programme in June 2012.
The programme provides free professional psychological assistance to cancer patients and their families. By providing group arts therapy sessions, the project aims to enhance a patient’s social inclusion and quality of life.
For many years, art therapy has been recognised as a way of helping people cope with mental illness. Many health professionals now believe it can also help cancer patients come to terms with their diagnosis, particularly in helping to help deal with anxiety, depression and low self- esteem.3
The arts therapy aspect of the Loving Life programme includes sessions in fine art, theatre, poetry, music, photography and dance and movement all of which can increase the sense of control patient feels, and potentially have a therapeutic effect. Other benefits of art therapy include reduced symptoms from anxiety and depression, lower stress levels, improved self-esteem, increased social interactions and restored communication, and improved quality of life.
To date – the programme has provided 300 consultations to 50 patients. During the three years it is scheduled to run, it will help over 600 patients in all.
As a result of the programme, psychosocial oncology is an emerging area in Lithuania for cancer treatment and we are talking to Vilnius University and the University of Health Sciences, based in Kaunas, to consider how to integrate a module on the topic in their Master degree courses in psychology.
1 World Health Organization. Top Ten causes of death: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/index.html:
3 Relieving Symptoms in Cancer: Innovative Use of Art therapy// Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 2006, Vol. 31. Nancy Nainis, Judith A. Paice, Julia Ratner, James H. Wirth, Jerry Lai, Susan Shott.