How are you doing emotionally?

19 May 2016 | Kathy Chapman
Professor Rob Sanson-Fisher_

Nearly 50 per cent of cancer patients aren’t offered help for emotional distress

How are you doing emotionally? This seems like a question you’d expect when you’re undergoing cancer treatment – but not many people who receive cancer care hear it very often.

Up to 1 in 5 cancer patients are never asked about their emotional wellbeing at their hospital appointments. Most are offered help to relieve physical symptoms such as pain, but almost half the patients are not offered help to relieve emotional distress.

Cancer Council NSW has invested $4.5million to improve support for people diagnosed with cancer. A big part of this investment was granted to Laureate Professor Rob Sanson-Fisher and his team at the University of Newcastle – he revealed the issue of unmet emotional needs, and wants to address it with a new system of patient-centred care.

A wide range of unmet emotional needs

Professor Sanson-Fisher’s recent data shows that many people diagnosed with cancer in Australia report an unmet need for help relating to their cancer. The five most common areas of unmet needs are:

  • knowing what type of financial assistance is available and how to obtain it
  • parking at the hospital
  • lacking energy and feeling tired
  • fears about the disease getting worse
  • uncertainty about the future

Professor Sanson-Fisher showed that about 1 in 4 people affected by cancer report possible depression and 1 in 5 report possible anxiety. However, it also became clear that the majority of patients do not voluntarily discuss their emotional health at hospital appointments. That’s why some patients may not receive aspects of care that could be of benefit to them.

Cancer Council NSW think it’s essential to fund new treatments and therapies to reduce the impact of cancer – but it’s equally important to focus on cancer research which will improve support and care for people diagnosed with cancer.  

This focus area of research will lead to results and strategies which will have an imminent, positive impact for those currently affected by cancer.

As part of our $4.5million dollar investment to improve support for people diagnosed with cancer, Professor Sanson-Fisher received a large funding boost – he and his team want to use the funds to change the prevalence of unmet emotional needs.

A new system of patient-centred care

Professor Sanson-Fisher is convinced that to provide high quality care that meets people’s needs and maximises their quality of life, we must change the system in which care is provided.

His research will implement a new system of patient-centred care across cancer treatment centres in NSW. The new system aims to improve the quality of care in reducing cancer survivors’ levels of anxiety, depression and unmet needs, while improving quality of life.

The research team predict that patient-focused care will be effective in reducing levels of anxiety and depression, and addressing the unmet needs of survivors. If this prediction proves correct, this system could be readily adopted by every cancer centre in NSW and Australia-wide, and have a profound impact on the way in which cancer care is delivered in Australia.

How our support services can help

Cancer Council NSW’s range of practical, emotional and informational support services offer help to fill the gap in unmet needs that many patients and survivors face.

A cancer diagnosis can provide a myriad of challenges to the physical, emotional and social wellbeing of patients and their carers. Our support services offer more help for people at all stages of cancer – from our Cancer Connect peer support program for people who have completed treatment or are going through it, to Pro Bono legal and financial advice and survivorship programs which help people navigate life after cancer.

We want anyone affected by cancer to know that more information and support is out there. Those wishing to find out more about Cancer Council NSW’s support services can contact Cancer Council 13 11 20 Information and Support.


Want to help? Host your Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea

This May, you can help support Cancer Council NSW, its researchers and its support programs by hosting your own Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea.

If you can put the kettle on, you can host a morning tea – it’s that easy. Gather your friends, family or workmates, share a cuppa and tasty treats, and give your support to those affected by cancer.

By doing so, you help fund researchers like Professor Rob Sanson-Fisher , who work hard to improve support for cancer patients and survivors. The funds you raise also go towards Cancer Council’s life-saving support programs – like Cancer Council 13 11 20 Information and Support – for people facing cancer.

The official Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea date is Thursday 26th May 2016, but events can be hosted at any time during May or June.

Visit to register and learn more.