News Release: Research

Feb. 26,  2009

Podcast: Coping with Cancer's Emotional Fallout

From Woodruff Health Sciences Center News

It's estimated that 11 million Americans have cancer. All suffer the physical manifestations of the disease, as well as the emotional ones.  Yet, only relatively recently have physicians recognized that easing the disease's emotional burden may improve patients’ treatment and prognosis.

Michael Burke, MD, clinical director of psychiatric oncology at Emory University Winship Cancer Institute, and his colleagues offer a collaborative approach toward therapies for the emotional, psychological and physical symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment. Burke has conducted studies focused on the effects of the disease’s emotional burden on patients and families and whether easing that burden can improve patients’ treatment and coping skills.

To listen to Burke's own words about the emotional effects of cancer, access Emory's new Sound Science podcast.

To help patients cope with a diagnosis of cancer, Burke and his colleagues evaluate patients' medical and personal history, environment and health behaviors, such as whether they’re getting enough exercise or increasingly using alcohol and tobacco. "I start by looking at the interaction between their health behaviors, their present emotional state, their past emotional state, the stage of their disease, and the milieu of their disease. We’re helping the person feel better beyond the cancer itself," says Burke.

Knowing how to help people feel better emotionally and physically, says Burke, depends greatly on what stage of the disease they are in. "If I have someone in the early stages, we just try to get them through the shock and get them through the difficulty and get them functioning. If someone is in the middle stage, we often look at how to deal with sustained stress and endure a difficult situation for a long period of time," says Burke.

Burke says patients have a wide range of reactions when told they have cancer. "After that initial shock, some people are desperate to get information, then there’s another set of folks who just go into shock, go into shut down. We need to understand that a person has the cancer, and we’re not just fixing the organ and making it better"

Burke received his MD degree from the Medical College of Georgia. He completed his residency and a clinical research fellowship at Duke University Medical Center.

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