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Through a multidisciplinary approach, the Integral Support Unit (ISU) seeks to find an answer to all the physical and emotional needs of the advanced-stage cancer patient.

  • The ISU works on the patient-family unit and in coordination with other hospital services to be able to provide a complete and personalized answer in each case.

The constant improvement in the quality of life of cancer patients is one of the principles that has shaped the development of oncologic medicine in recent years, above all in the case of people in whom the disease is irreversible. For that reason, to ensure the best conditions of wellbeing in patients in this stage, MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid has created the Integral Support Unit (ISU).

The ISU is dedicated to the symptomatic treatment of advanced-stage cancer patients and through multidisciplinary, personalized care, aims to find answers to any physical or emotional need these patients may have. “Our aim is to help make these moments as bearable as possible, in terms of controlling symptoms and discomfort”, explains Dr. Mar Mendivil, coordinator of the ISU at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid.

When controlling the symptoms, Dr. Mendivil points out that “it is fundamental to manage pain, as well as other symptoms like insomnia, constipation or nausea which can also appear in this stage, and that contribute to the patient’s lack of wellbeing”. It is therefore important to take into account that the treatment of these symptoms must not be aggressive, as the aim is not curative but to alleviate the degree of discomfort the person may feel. “We cannot speak to them about facing this advanced phase of the disease is they really are in pain and are having a hard time”, states Dr. Mendivil.

At the same time, the ISU is responsible for approaching psychological and emotional aspects, from the perspective of the patient and from that of their family, help them prepare for this hard situation “If the patient so wishes, it is important to help him/her express his/her feelings as a way of letting emotions out, because doing so can give great relief. In the case of the family, what the psycho-oncologist does is work on questions of support and on how wearing it is to accompany an advanced-stage cancer patient”, comments the doctor.

On the other hand, the new unit will evaluate other complementary aspects of the patient’s wellbeing, such as nutrition or mobility. For the nutritional aspects, the aim is to cover food requirements and adapt these to each patient depending on their individual circumstances. In the case of mobility, the goal is to maintain enough muscle tone so that the person can maintain as much independence as possible: to get up, go to the bathroom or change position.

A multidisciplinary and vitalistic approach

To cover a wide spectrum of needs, the ISU has a multidisciplinary team made up of specialists from each of the areas in which support is given. So, the medical team of the unit consists of an internal medicine specialist and master in palliative care, two nurses specialized in the treatment of cancer patients and who work in coordination with the ward nurse, a psycho-oncologist who evaluates the patient and their family, a physiotherapist and a nutritionist. In addition, the team has the support of Patient Care and the team of volunteers.

The multidisciplinary team that works on the patient-family unit also acts as a link with the rest of the medical team habitually treating the patient - the oncologist, hematologist or surgeon, with whom the team collaborates and coordinates to come up with a complete and personalized answer for each patient.

In this way, the aim is to optimize and provide the best quality of life for the patient, always with a vitalistic approach in the advanced stage the patient finds him/herself in. “our team neither accelerates nor delays the disease’s process. Ultimately, what we try to do is minimize the feelings of anguish and anxiety, aiming to avoid fears and the negative emotional weight associated with the end of the disease”, finishes Dr. Mendivil.