Why is Supportive Care Essential during Breast Cancer Treatment?
Published Oct 19, 2023 • By Somya Pokharna
A breast cancer diagnosis can drastically alter a person's life. Coping with the physical and emotional symptoms and side-effects of treatment can be a challenging ordeal for many patients. This is where supportive care comes in to supplement the treatment offered by oncologists, helping patients in handling the symptoms and adverse effects associated with cancer.
So, what is supportive care? Why is it important in treating breast cancer? What kind of services are available?
Unearth the answers in this article!
What is supportive care?
Supportive care, also known as palliative care, helps individuals with cancer navigate the physical, emotional, and practical challenges associated with the disease. Its primary focus is to enhance the overall quality of life for both patients and their caregivers, particularly after cancer treatment has concluded. This encompasses various dimensions, including physical symptom management, education, social support, psychological well-being, spiritual assistance, and rehabilitation. Supportive care addresses diverse individual needs and adapts to the patient's stage of the disease, age, social and cultural context, and evolving requirements.
Additionally, the impact on caregivers, such as partners and families, should not be overlooked. While they play a crucial role in providing physical and emotional support to their loved ones that are battling cancer, they might also need support themselves to navigate the challenges that come with caregiving.
Why is supportive care important in treating breast cancer?
Breast cancer treatment, which often includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormonal therapy, can lead to a range of side effects and symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, nausea, and mental or emotional distress. Supportive care ensures that these side effects are managed effectively, enabling patients to tolerate their treatment regimens and continue with their therapy plans. It helps improve the patient's overall quality of life by alleviating distressing symptoms and enhancing their emotional well-being.
Supportive care needs in the context of breast cancer can be categorized into three main groups: physical, psychological, and practical. These needs encompass addressing physical symptoms and side effects of treatment, offering psychological support to cope with emotional challenges, and assisting with practical matters that may affect the patient's daily life, like nutrition and rehabilitation.
Understanding and addressing these diverse supportive care needs in a patient-centered, timely, and appropriate manner are fundamental to ensuring the highest quality of care for individuals dealing with breast cancer. This also helps patients feel more in control of their situation and encourages them to actively participate in their treatment.
What kind of supportive care services are available?
Here are some key areas of supportive care services available for breast cancer patients:
Physical Rehabilitation and Pain Management
Patients may experience stiffness, pain, and reduced mobility in the arm and shoulder on the side where breast cancer was treated. Physical rehabilitation, including exercises, can help alleviate these symptoms, improve range of motion, and assist patients in resuming their daily activities.
Pain is also common after breast cancer surgery. Some patients may experience conditions like post-mastectomy pain syndrome or phantom breast pain. Supportive care includes various treatments such as pain medications, nerve blocks, and non-pharmacological approaches to alleviate discomfort.
Additionally, Lymphedema, or swelling in the arm, can occur when lymph nodes are removed or damaged during treatment. Supportive care includes methods to diagnose, manage and alleviate lymphedema symptoms.
Psychological and Emotional Support
Breast cancer can lead to anxiety, depression, and emotional distress. Supportive care provides psychological support, counseling, and interventions to help patients cope with their fears and emotional challenges.
Information and Education
Educational supportive care offers comprehensive information about breast cancer, treatment options, and test results to empower patients to make informed decisions about their care.
Social and Interpersonal Support
Dealing with breast cancer can have a significant impact on personal relationships. Supportive care offers avenues for patients to connect with others facing similar challenges and addresses the social and psychological aspects of cancer care.
Body Image and Self-Esteem Support
Supportive care helps patients address body image changes resulting from breast cancer treatment, including loss of a breast or hair. It offers guidance on coping with these changes and maintaining self-esteem.
Sexuality and Fertility Concerns
Breast cancer and its treatments can affect sexual health and fertility. Supportive care provides guidance on addressing these issues, improving communication with partners, and preserving fertility when possible.
Financial and Practical Support
Patients may incur various costs related to diagnosis and treatment. Supportive care helps with financial guidance, assistance in accessing resources, and practical support like travel arrangements or childcare.
Supportive care includes guidance from dietitians to ensure patients receive the necessary nutrients during breast cancer treatment, particularly when side effects affect eating habits.
Patients can explore their spiritual and existential questions, providing meaning and support during their cancer journey.
Caregiver support groups offer a space for caregivers to share their experiences and connect with others facing similar challenges. There are also respite care services that can provide temporary relief by allowing caregivers to take a break and recharge. Educational resources and counseling services are also available to help caregivers better understand the disease, manage stress, and cope with their emotions. Moreover, healthcare providers can offer guidance on practical aspects of caregiving, such as medication management and symptom control, ensuring that caregivers have the necessary knowledge and skills to provide the best care possible.
Supportive care plays a pivotal role in the holistic treatment of breast cancer. It is a multidimensional approach that addresses physical, emotional, and practical needs and adapts to the unique circumstances of each patient.
Supportive care significantly enhances the quality of life for both patients and their caregivers, aiming to alleviate physical symptoms, manage psychological challenges, and provide assistance with practical matters. It is crucial in mitigating the side effects of breast cancer treatment, fostering emotional well-being, and empowering patients to actively engage in their care.
Supportive care is not just about surviving the disease; it's about thriving through the journey, promoting resilience, and helping patients and their loved ones navigate the challenges that breast cancer presents.
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