20% of cancer patients suffer from cognitive impairment

JAPAN - At least 20 percent of cancer patients treated by palliative care teams at medical institutions designated as regional cancer treatment base hospitals suffer from cognitive impairment, a Yomiuri Shimbun survey shows.

Due to communication barriers, such patients have concerns about delays in cancer detection and difficulties receiving adequate treatment. Moreover, when they have received cancer treatment, they may face difficulty finding institutions that will accept them for further care.

Such problems are likely to increase sharply in accordance with the growing elderly population.

The Yomiuri Shimbun sent questionnaires in April regarding cancer patients suffering from cognitive impairment including dementia and delirium, symptoms of which include mood swings and hallucinations, to 397 medical institutions designated as regional cancer treatment base hospitals across the nation. Responses were received from 225 institutions, or 57 percent.

The questionnaires targeted palliative care teams-which comprise such medical specialists as doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical social workers. The teams work to relieve pain caused by cancer and psychological symptoms such as mood swings or anxiety, and support quality of life for patients and their families. The designated base hospitals are obliged to establish palliative care teams, which provide care based on requests from doctors in charge. Such cancer patients may suffer psychiatric symptoms, including dementia.

Of 10,176 patients treated by palliative care teams at all medical institutions during a three-month period from December through February, 2,080 patients-or an average of 10 patients at each institution-suffered from cognitive impairment.

The figure accounts for 20.4 percent of all cancer patients cared for by the teams that answered the survey.

"The sharp rise of the elderly population is certain in metropolitan areas. Unless countermeasures are urgently taken, the situation will grow serious," said Asao Ogawa, head of the Psycho-oncology Division at National Cancer Center Hospital East in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture.