Conventional approaches to soothe women suffering from malignancies such as late-stage gynaecological cancer include psychotherapeutic approaches like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
But these take too long to change old habits and require too much stamina, said doctors from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
“Women with gynecologic cancers face various physical and psychological challenges throughout their treatment journey,” they wrote in a commentary published in the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer.
“Late stages associated with poor prognosis, along with chronic side effects of treatment, often leave women with existential uncertainty stemming from unpredictable disease trajectory and continuous fear of death,” the authors said.
Citing a recent case of a young woman with advanced ovarian cancer, the doctors said her “fear for her future was real and overwhelming”, but added that she neither had the time nor the stamina for the options available to ease her distress.
The commentary noted that up to a quarter of ovarian cancer patients report depression, anxiety and death anxiety.
“This is not limited to ovarian cancers, as many gynecologic cancers are unfortunately diagnosed in young women where the burden of anxiety and fear is even greater, often related to the fact that young children may lose their mother,” the authors said.
Recent studies have shown that psychedelics – specifically psilocybin – can have promising effects in treating various psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and end-of-life distress.
The results of research on psychedelics’ effects on people with other types of cancer have also been encouraging, the doctors said.
Psilocybin has so far been shown to work effectively in ways similar to antidepressants, with few or no side effects.
It has also been shown to have beneficial effects when combined with psychotherapy in just one or two sessions.
A recent analysis of 10 clinical trials found that one or two doses of psilocybin can have “rapid and sustained” antidepressant effects that lasted for up to six months, the doctors said.
“Concerns regarding psilocybin’s potential for recreational abuse or mental illness have not materialized, and data suggest psilocybin use may actually be protective against psychological distress and suicidality,” they said.
Due to the prevalence of distress among ovarian and other gynaecologic cancer patients, the authors said there is a “clear need for more well-designed protocols” that prioritise the safe use of psilocybin and other psychedelics.
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