JNCCN Study Highlights Gaps in Patient Supportive Services at U.S. Cancer Centers

Cheyenne Corbett

New research highlights significant deficiencies in resources to support cancer patients with substance use disorders such as a dependence on alcohol or opioids

New research in the July 2021 issue of JNCCN—Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network indicates a need to increase substance use and mental health support capabilities at cancer centers across the United States. Past studies have determined that people diagnosed with cancer within the past decade have a higher prevalence for substance use disorders than those with no recent cancer diagnosis.[1][2] Researchers from the Mayo Clinic used the American Hospital Association, Area Health Resource File, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Hospital Compare databases to analyze the psychosocial support being offered by more than 1,000 cancer centers across America. They found that most centers offered mental health services (85.4%), but less than half offered chemical dependency services (45.5%), and even fewer offered both (44.1%).

“Cancer patients commonly experience mental health and chemical dependency issues. If clinicians and patients do not identify and treat these conditions, they can lead to poorer quality-of-life, increasing complications, additional caregiver burden, and even reduced survival. The resulting increase in resource utilization can also lead to increased out-of-pocket expenses and costs to payers,” said lead researcher Shehzad K. Niazi, MD, FRCPC, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Florida.

Dr. Niazi continued: “As one possible solution, cancer center clinicians could establish formal referral relations with community partners where available. The recent dramatic uptake in telehealth may provide new opportunities for providing these services to more patients as well.”

According to the findings, centers located in more diverse areas were less likely to offer mental health and chemical dependency services.

"When you think about the context of a person’s life, there are going to be factors that help and those that hinder how they go through cancer treatment. It is critical to screen, assess, and intervene for factors beyond the treatment-related side effects for patients in active treatment and in survivorship, as detailed in the NCCN Guidelines for Distress Management,” commented Cheyenne Corbett, PhD, Supportive Care & Survivorship Center, Center for Onco-Primary Care, Duke Cancer Institute, who was not involved in this research. “While there is now a recognition that this care is critical, and there are accreditation standards to ensure psychosocial screening and intervention, there are still many barriers to providing mental health and chemical dependency care for patients facing the impact of cancer on their lives.”

Dr. Corbett—a member of the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) Panel for Distress Management — continued: “The investigators have described the need for psychosocial services at cancer centers across the country, and shone a light on the differences in their availability. It is our duty to address these differences with innovative and collaborative approaches within and beyond the walls of our individual cancer centers."

To read the entire study, visit JNCCN.org. Complimentary access to “Mental Health and Chemical Dependency Services at US Cancer Centers” is available until October 10, 2021.