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​Mind-body medicine

Our services

The mind-body medicine program at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is designed to support you before, during and after cancer treatment.

Mind-body medicine, an integral part of whole-person care, recognizes the powerful ways in which emotional, mental, social and behavioral factors may directly affect a patient’s physical health. Our licensed mental health and allied professionals offer caring relationships and therapeutic practices and techniques to help you and your caregivers respond to a cancer diagnosis and treatment regimen in empowering and stress-reducing ways, so you are better able to improve your health, relationships and overall well-being.

Some of the mind-body medicine services we offer include those listed below.

Animal-assisted therapy

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), also known as pet therapy, is a form of therapy that uses dogs and other animals to help people cope with health problems, including cancer. Visiting with a certified therapy pet in the hospital may provide patients and their families with comfort, relief and a distraction from pain, discomfort and stress.

AAT has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood and energy levels, and decrease perceived pain and anxiety. It may also provide a sense of companionship that combats feelings of isolation.

Dogs are most commonly therapy pets, although other domesticated pets, farm animals and even dolphins have been used in some circumstances.

Therapy dogs are trained and certified to work with patients. During a visit from a therapy dog, the dog’s owner walks the dog through the hospital, stopping to greet people who would like a visit. The visits vary in length, but generally last anywhere between five and 15 minutes. It is important that patients meet certain health criteria and are cleared by their oncologist to receive AAT.

We have certified therapy dogs at all five of our hospitals. As part of our AAT program, our therapy dogs visit the hospitals throughout the week, and are always accompanied by their owners.

Intimacy and cancer counseling

A cancer diagnosis may change cancer patients’ relationships with their partners in many ways, including how they interact, share intimate moments and engage in sexual intercourse. These changes may be caused by physical effects from various cancer treatments, or from emotions triggered by feelings of loss, insecurity or a lack of control. Discussing your concerns and experiences with your care team may help you and your partner better communicate and take new steps to prepare for and manage cancer-related relationship changes as they occur.

At CTCA®, we offer a variety of counseling and other programs to help you maintain your quality of life and strengthen your relationships during and after cancer treatment. These services include cognitive behavioral therapy and other mind-body strategies.

Because of their biological makeup, men and women often experience relationship and intimacy challenges differently. Their experiences may also vary based on their cancer types and individual treatment regimens. For example, treatments that may cause side effects that impact intimacy, sexual intercourse and relationships include:

Hormone therapy: Men with advanced or metastatic prostate cancer may be prescribed hormone therapies that reduce their production of testosterone and other androgens. This may lead to hot flashes, decreased sex drive, impotence, loss of muscle mass and other physical changes. Hormone therapies for women with ovarian cancer and breast cancer curb estrogen production. This may trigger physical changes that resemble menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and vaginal dryness.

Chemotherapy: For women, some anti-cancer drugs may irritate mucous membranes, making sex temporarily difficult or painful. A weakened immune system may also raise the risk of yeast and other infections during treatment. Some chemotherapy drugs may lead to early menopause in some women and sterility in some men.

Surgery: Depending on the location of the tumors, certain surgical procedures may impair body function and/or self-image in both men and women. For men, surgeries for prostate, bladder or colon cancer may damage nerves or blood vessels, affecting their ability to achieve or maintain an erection. For women, surgeries to remove breast, cervical or other gynecologic cancers may lead to physical changes that make sexual activity painful or that impact their self-esteem.

Radiation: Men treated with radiation therapy to the lower belly may experience scarring or nerve damage that affects their ability to have an erection. Radiation treatments for women with pelvic-area cancers may develop decreased tissue elasticity or scarring, which may make sex difficult or painful.

Laughter therapy

Laughter therapy, also called humor therapy, is the use of humor to promote overall health and wellness. It aims to use the natural physiological process of laughter to help relieve physical or emotional stresses or discomfort.

Humor’s use in medicine has a long history. Surgeons have been using humor to distract patients from pain from as early as the 13th century. Later, in the 20th century, scientists studied the effect of humor on physical wellness. Many credit this development to Norman Cousins. After years of prolonged pain from a serious illness, Cousins claims to have cured himself with a self-invented regimen of laughter and vitamins. In his 1979 book, “Anatomy of an Illness,” Cousins describes how watching comedic movies helped him recover.

Over the years, researchers have conducted studies to explore the impact of laughter on health. After evaluating participants before and after a humorous event (i.e., a comedy video), studies have revealed that episodes of laughter helped to reduce pain and decrease stress-related hormones in participants. Studies have also found that laughter therapy may help improve quality of life for patients with chronic illnesses. Many hospitals now offer laughter therapy as a complementary treatment to illness.

CTCA offers humor therapy sessions, also known as Laughter Clubs or humor groups, to help cancer patients and their families use and enjoy laughter as a tool for healing. These leader-led groups take patients through a number of laughter-related exercises, including fake laughter and laughter greetings. Laughter Club is based not on humor or jokes, but rather on laughter as a physical exercise.

Music therapy

Music therapy is the practice of using music to address your physical and emotional needs in a therapeutic environment. It may be used to help alleviate emotional, physical and social stresses caused by cancer, or to boost your mood and help you through cancer treatment and recovery.

Our mind-body therapists may help patients use music for therapeutic expression. Music therapy may include creating, singing, moving to or listening to music to: