Psychiatric Oncology

The Center for Psychiatric Oncology and Behavioral Sciences brings together experts in psychiatry and psychology to help patients and cope with the psychological and behavioral impact of cancer.
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Talk to an access nurse today 877-726-5130


Caring for the Whole Patient

Patients with cancer often deal with severe side effects and psychological distress during cancer treatment. Coping successfully can have a substantial impact on their quality of life and on the quality of life of those around them. This program, a collaborative effort of the Department of Psychiatry and the Cancer Center, is designed to provide easily accessible, state-of-the-art treatment for the psychological distress often experienced during cancer treatment.

The Center for Psychiatric Oncology and Behavioral Science is committed to a cancer care model that is unparalleled in its ability to treat the whole patient, to foster the best patient and family experience and the best clinical outcomes.

Our research program, supported by the National Cancer Institute, has seven main areas of focus:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Survivorship
  • Access to care
  • Disparities
  • Aging
  • Health behaviors

Innovative Approaches

We are at the forefront of this growing field, offering the following advantages to our patients and their families:

  • A Department of Psychiatry that is consistently ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report
  • Unparalleled access in New England to specialized psychiatric expertise in cancer and its treatments
  • Ability to distinguish between and appropriately treat mood and behavior changes related to emotional coping versus those related to physiological issues such as nutrition, metastasis, or chemotherapy- or radiotherapy-induced changes
  • An individualized approach that recognizes the differences in adjustment to diagnosis, disease-related physical changes and side effects depending on age, gender, personality, background and beliefs
  • Compassion and expertise in dealing with the feeling of loss brought about by cancer

Multidisciplinary Patient Care

Every patient is cared for by a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists, including experts in psychiatric oncology. Patients and the family members involved in their care are viewed as an important part of this team, as is the referring physician. Working together, we form a personalized treatment plan that addresses your needs and wishes and gives you the best possible chance of success.

Our contribution to this plan and to your treatment is to focus on your mood, your anxiety and your ability to think clearly while receiving treatment. This may include adjusting medications, clarifying medical and psychological aspects of your disease and treatment and suggesting treatments.

Learn more about how Dr. Kelly Irwin is helping to shape the way that today’s healthcare system works with cancer patients who suffer from severe mental illness.

Patient Education

Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation

All of our psychiatrists have had advanced sub-specialty training in the psychiatric care of medically-ill patients. We are able to offer comprehensive evaluations that include both medical and psychological causes of distress in individuals with cancer.

Expertise in Psychiatric Medications and Cancer Treatments

We are sensitive and knowledgeable about the use of psychiatric medications during cancer treatments in order to avoid drug interactions and worsening of side effects.

Counseling/Psychotherapy Referrals

As part of an individualized treatment plan, we often include a referral for counseling or psychotherapy. We work closely with Oncology Social Work and the Behavioral Medicine Service to ensure that patients are referred to the therapy that will be best for them.

Improving Care through Clinical Trials

Many of the specialists in this program are involved in clinical research to improve the quality of life for patients and their families during cancer treatment. Research areas include:

Depression: Studies on the relationship between cancer and cancer treatments with depression have helped clarify that certain cancer treatments cause fatigue rather than depression, and are starting to show connections between depression and mortality in cancer patients. Further investigation is aimed at the effects of treating depression on survival and on how oncologists recognize and treat depression in their clinical practices. A study currently under way investigates major depression in patients with advanced lung cancer.

Anxiety: Studies help to show how anxiety can affect patients' ability to complete cancer treatments and novel ways to treat anxiety with behavioral interventions. A study currently enrolling participants investigates behavioral intervention for anxiety in advanced lung cancer patients.

Health Behaviors: These studies explore health behaviors, particularly smoking, among cancer patients and survivors, and of the quality of health insurance coverage for these survivors. Prevention studies include investigating National Lung Cancer Screening Trials participants' risk perceptions for cancer. A recently completed pilot study demonstrated the feasibility and potential efficacy of a behavioral and pharmacological intervention for smoking cessation in lung cancer patients. Our work also examines the efficacy and potential cost effectiveness of integrating brief mind-body interventions into cancer clinical care.


Learn more about how Dr. Kelly Irwin is helping to shape the way that today’s healthcare system works with cancer patients who suffer from severe mental illness.


2nd Annual Symposium
Bridging the Divide: Mental Health and Cancer Care

May 11-12, 2018
The Starr Center | 185 Cambridge St | Boston, MA 02114

We are delighted to invite you to the 2nd Annual Bridging the Divide Symposium! Based on your feedback, support, and participation in May, we are excited to offer in 2018:

A two-day event highlighting:

  • Best practices at the interaction of cancer and mental health care
  • Advances in patient-centered research
  • Diverse group of stakeholders fostering communication across disciplines and institutions
  • A shared commitment to promoting equity in cancer care and increasing access to research
  • The patient and caregiver perspective

Continuing Education Units to psychologists, physicians, nurses, social workers, and mental health clinicians on Friday, May 11th.

Register Now

Bridging the Divide: Mental Health and Cancer Care

Held on May 5, 2017 in Boston, this event brought together a diverse group of leaders in mental health and cancer care from throughout New England to: 1) interact with patients and families 2) discuss how to change the dialogue when talking about mental health, and 3) brainstorm ways to close the gap in the inequity of cancer care for mental health patients. In addition to patients and caregivers, experts from 30 hospitals, the American Cancer Society, the National Alliance of Mental Illness, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, the Massachusetts State Legislature and others participated in the symposium. View event agenda

View a summary of the 2017 symposium, and share your feedback with us. Open this google doc and add your comments to our working summary of the Bridging the Divide: Mental Health and Cancer Care Symposium.


Panel One: Narratives of Mental Health and Cancer Care

Moderators: David Ryan, MD, Clinical Director, Mass General Cancer Center; and Ilana Braun, MD, Director of Psychosocial Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Narrative 1: Joan and Henry Archibald, Lipika Goyal, MD, Keri Brenner, MD.
Narrative 2: Caryn Metzger, NP, Anna Farago, MD.


Panel Two: Leaders in Mental Health and Cancer Care

Moderator: Jerrold Rosenbaum, MD, Chief of Psychiatry, Mass General Hospital.
Emma Stanton, MD, Beacon Health Options.
Inga Lennes, MD, SVP of Service Excellence and Practice Improvement, Mass General Physicians Organization.
Representative Christopher Markey, JD, Chairman of the House Ethics Committee and State representative from Dartmouth and New Bedford.
Kathy Sanders, MD, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Mental Health.


Plenary: Bridging the Divide

Speaker: Kelly Irwin, MD, Director of Collaborative Care & Community Engagement, Mass General Cancer Center.


Call to Action: Why I am Hopeful

Speaker: Oliver Freudenreich, MD, Co-Director, Mass General Schizophrenia Program.

Support Us

Support the Collaborative Care Program in Psychiatric Oncology

Patients with severe mental illness die nearly 25 years younger than the general population and are significantly more likely to die from cancer. We are researching how to improve cancer survival and quality of life in this neglected population.

Learn more about how you can help.


Contact Us

Cancer Center

  • Phone: 617-726-5130
Request an Appointment Request a Remote Second Opinion

Talk to an access nurse today 877-726-5130

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