The sixth vital sign: Patient distress

Detecting distress is the first step to helping patients recover.distress June15

When going to see a health care provider for an office visit, we expect to be asked about our physical health and have a physical exam that measures our vital signs. Emotional health, sometimes called the sixth vital sign, is harder to figure out. In fact, emotional or psychosocial problems can persist for years without a provider being aware that their patient is in distress.

This has changed for cancer patients, many of whom do experience high levels of distress. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network describes distress as “an unpleasant emotional experience of a psychosocial, social, and/or spiritual nature that may interfere with the ability to cope effectively with cancer, its physical symptoms, and its treatment.” So what is being done to address this? Continue reading

For men: Communicating with doctors

communicating with doctorsIt’s a well-known fact that men and women communicate differently, and this carries over into all relationships, including ones with health care providers. A diagnosis of cancer can be overwhelming, and there can be a great deal of information to process. Some men may have more difficulty in communicating with doctors for the following reasons:

  • More discomfort in discussing health related problems
  • Stress can cause men to withdraw and become quiet
  • Men don’t like to be told what to do
  • Don’t want to waste people’s time by asking questions

Patients are taking a more active role in their health care. We know that outcomes are better when patients are working along with their doctor in making decisions that are best for them. The following are some tips that can be helpful in improving communication: Continue reading

Why taking your prescription medication as prescribed is so important

prescription medicationDo you take your medication exactly as prescribed by your health care provider? If you do, congratulations! You are medication compliant or adherent.

However, non-adherence can occur very easily and most likely happens to everyone from time to time. Whether it is on purpose or by accident, missing doses can lead to your medication not working as well as it could.

Some common reasons for non-adherence:

  • Simply missing a dose
  • Side effects from the medication
  • Concerns about possible side effects
  • Concerns about long term effects
  • Don’t think you need the medication anymore
  • Don’t think the medication is working
  • Difficulty managing all the medicines you take
  • Missed doses because of a busy schedule
  • Tendency to forget things in your daily life
  • Financial concerns about medication costs
  • Pharmacy was out of the medication

Continue reading

Satisfaction with choices for cancer care increases when patients engage in online communications and social media

Younger patients more likely to discuss their treatment options using these digital tools

iCanCare StudyWe spoke recently to Lauren Wallner, Ph.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of internal medicine, cancer epidemiologist and health services researcher. She is part of a research team presenting a poster on June 1 at the ASCO annual meeting that reports on the use of online communication and social media by newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. The results are part of the iCanCare Study.

mCancerPartner: What did you learn through this survey of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients?

Dr. Wallner: We asked patients whether Continue reading

Showing support to a friend with a new cancer diagnosis

cancer diagnosisMost of us have heard the Beatles lyric, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” When you have a friend diagnosed with cancer, it is often hard to know how to help. Should you talk about the cancer? Should you avoid talking about the cancer diagnosis? What is the best way to help your friend?

It is helpful for good friends to know there are different ways that people cope with cancer. A range of feelings may occur: anger, fear, anxiety, or blaming themselves (because of something they did or did not do). These initial reactions will likely only last a short time. You may need to be patient and understanding and overlook some behaviors. Continue reading

Diagnosis. Pause. Decision.

When you hear the word “cancer,” the last thing any newly diagnosed patient wants to do is take extra time to decide on treatment. The tendency is for patients to spring into action, often following advice of the first oncologist they see without investigating treatment options or second opinions. However, this isn’t necessarily the best course of action. In fact, Steven Katz, M.D, from the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center leads a research team that studies treatment decision-making. His takeaway to date:

“I’m not talking about waiting months. I’m talking about an extra visit. Take time to discuss options with

second opinion

Lynn Dworzanin (right) with her daughter

your spouse. Get a second opinion if you’re not sure.”

Decisions after cancer diagnosis, in most cases, don’t need to be made as though it’s a medical emergency.

Lynn Dworzanin is a Cancer Center patient who faced some tough decisions. Diagnosed with breast cancer, she had many things on her mind, including her survival, family, body image, over treating her cancer and peace of mind in the future.

Many patients are so afraid for their lives that they don’t stop to think about other Continue reading