Woman at UM SJMC's Wellness Center performing acupunture

According to one study published in JAMA, one-third to one-half of individuals diagnosed with cancer experience significant levels of psychosocial distress at some point during diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship.

Breast cancer patients face many psychosocial stressors during their treatment journey. Many treatment protocols for breast cancer can last months or years at a time and cause overwhelming fatigue. Other treatments have cosmetic side effects that are highly visible and damaging to the patient's self-image.

Find out how the University of Maryland Cancer Network hospitals take a more integrative approach to treating breast cancer patients.

Addressing Psychosocial Distress

All UM Cancer Network hospitals offer some form of complementary therapies to address psychosocial concerns for breast cancer patients.

UM Upper Chesapeake Medical Center Kaufman Cancer Center has Cancer LifeNet, a program dedicated entirely to supporting cancer patients at no cost.

In the summer of 2019, UM St. Joseph Medical Center Cancer Institute opened The Wellness and Support Center to address psychosocial stressors in cancer patients. "We provide physicians with another set of resources when standard treatments don't address all symptoms," says Virginia Jump, CRNP, Nurse Practitioner at the Wellness and Support Center.

Physicians refer patients to the Center at all stages of care. "Once the patient comes to the Center, we assess them to see what they need. Based on that assessment, we refer them to the different services that we have," says Jump.

Additionally, both UM Baltimore Washington Medical Center's Tate Cancer Center and UM Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center offer a robust suite of complementary therapies and wellness services, including dietary support, fitness programs, numerous integrative therapies, and more.

Complementary Therapies and Services

Following are common psychosocial concerns that UM Cancer Network's hospitals address for breast cancer patients using complementary therapies and services.

Feelings of Fatigue, Pain, and Anxiety

"Many breast cancer patients require treatments that can cause a constellation of symptoms, including fatigue and pain," says Jump.

At UM SJMC's Wellness and Support Center, patients can work with a certified holistic and integrative nurse to participate in healing touch therapy. Otherwise known as reiki, healing touch therapy is a kind of energy medicine. "You adjust and balance their energy using your hands either on or near the patient. These sessions optimize the patient's energetic health, allowing them to cope better and relieve their anxiety more easily," says Jump. The program also offers other coping techniques like aromatherapy, deep breathing exercises and guided imagery.

Similarly, UM UCH's Cancer LifeNet program offers an acupuncture therapy that is specifically designed to help breast cancer patients manage the pain that aromatase inhibitors can cause. Randomized clinical trials have shown that acupuncture is effective for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, while other studies suggest that it can be useful for helping manage fatigue and pain related to cancer.

Financial Problems

Out-of-pocket medical expenses can be a significant stressor for breast cancer patients and their families. Both the Wellness and Support Center and the Cancer LifeNet program provide breast cancer patients access to a financial counselor. These counselors can help patients navigate the complex world of billing and insurance, provide resources for managing costs, and more.

Maintaining Diet and Exercise

Many people struggle to maintain a nutritious diet and exercise regularly, but it is even more difficult for breast cancer patients undergoing treatment. This is why both the Wellness and Support Center and the Cancer LifeNet program offers consultations with a dietician. Cancer LifeNet also provides monthly "Fresh+Local=Health" classes, which include cooking demonstrations that utilize locally grown produce to create nutritious meals tailored for cancer patients and survivors. Yoga and other fitness classes are also provided by the Wellness and Support Center and Cancer LifeNet program.

Existential and Spiritual Concerns

When faced with a potentially life-threatening illness, it isn't unusual to feel spiritually lost. At the Wellness and Support Center, patients have the opportunity to connect with a spiritual adviser to help ease existential fears. "If we find during our assessment that patients have significant spiritual distress, they consult with our chaplain one-on-one. Patients can always talk to their own spiritual advisers, but our chaplain is intimately familiar with the struggles cancer patients face," says Jump.

Feelings of Isolation

Going through cancer diagnosis and treatment can be isolating, particularly when patients have no outlet for voicing their concerns. To address this, the Cancer LifeNet program offers a breast cancer support group monthly, providing patients and their loved ones to share their experiences, encourage one another, and listen to guests speak about survivorship.

Physicians as a Guiding Light

In today's information age, breast cancer patients regularly search for information about their treatment on the internet and beyond. Unfortunately, the complementary therapies they may find during their search aren't always effective. That's part of what makes the holistic offerings that the UM Cancer Network hospitals provide so important.

"We ultimately want to give patients the resources they need and give physicians a way to answer their patients' questions about psychosocial concerns. Patients need reputable and safe sources of information from providers," says Jump.

Help your patient lower their distress about breast cancer and improve their quality of life. Refer a patient today.

About the UM Cancer Network

With the NCI-designated UM Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center as its hub, the UM Cancer Network offers patients access to nationally-renowned experts, cutting edge treatments and technologies, and the latest clinical trials. UM GCCC was ranked #16 in the nation for cancer care in the 2019-20 US News and World Report's Best Hospital rankings. Learn more about the UM Cancer Network.