Cancer Care Program - Staff and Physicians

Psychosocial Oncology and Distress Screening

For most individuals, a cancer diagnosis presents many challenges. With a focus on whole-person care, it is important to understand the impact of cancer on our patients. Psychosocial Oncology (PSO) Health Services integrates psychosocial and supportive care provided by front-line staff (e.g., nurses, radiation therapists, oncologists) and specialized PSO health care providers (e.g., psychologists, social workers, drug access navigators, cancer patient navigators and others).  


Responding to Cancer-Related Concerns and Challenges: Patients Come First Screen

The Patients Come First Screen is the foundation for understanding and responding to patient-reported cancer-related concerns and challenges. 

The one-hour education video below focuses on best practice for health care providers responding to patient screens, including identifying patients who are at higher risk of distress and tips on how to help patients manage. 


Health Care Professional Education Sessions – Responding to and Managing Cancer-related Distress 

Education sessions are available to help Health Care Professionals (HCPs) enhance their skills in responding to patients about their completed screen.

For those with an interest in learning more than these sessions provide, deSouza Institute offers a 13-week course Introduction to Psychosocial Oncology Distance Education.  

To learn more, contact

Psychosocial Oncology Health Care Professionals

Many cancer patients, with support from their cancer care team, are able to cope with emotional and practical concerns related to their diagnosis, treatment, survivorship and progression of disease.  For those who need more specialized intervention, Psychosocial Oncology health care providers are available throughout the province. They provide psychotherapy and counselling to cancer patients.   

Team members include:

  • Psychologists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Social workers
  • Advanced practice nurses
  • Cancer patient navigators
  • Drug access navigators
  • Spiritual care providers

Services can be provided in person or virtually (i.e., phone, Zoom) throughout the person’s cancer experience, including at the end of treatment. Support varies across the province, so it is important to familiarize yourself with the services available in your zone. Referrals can be made using the Nova Scotia Health Cancer Care Program Ambulatory Psychosocial Oncology Referral form.   

Patient Resources

The Patient Orientation Videos Series is a three-part education series for recently diagnosed patients and their supports.  It includes:

  • an overview of information about cancer care
  • coping with cancer
  • emotional and practical supports
  • helpful resources  

You can watch these video sessions by clicking the links below:  

Part I - General Information and Helpful Resources 

Part II - Practical Supports

Part III - Cancer, Your Emotions and Coping 

There are a series of helpful patient information sheets covering a wide range of symptoms and concerns cancer patients frequently experience.

Cancer patients may encounter psychosocial and/or physical symptoms at various points during their cancer experience (e.g., while on treatment, end of active treatment, survivorship, dealing with recurrence or advanced disease).

The Symptom Management Video Series provides information about symptoms and coping strategies. These videos were created for patients to view but as a HCP you may also find them helpful. You can watch the videos by clicking the links below. 

Managing Your Cancer-related Fatigue

Coping with Cancer-related Pain

Taking Control of Your Cancer-related Worry and Anxiety

Taking Control of Your Cancer-related Sadness and Depression

Coping with Cancer-related Brain Fog 

Finishing cancer treatment can be a time of highs and lows. For some people, going back to 'normal life' or a 'new normal' is not easy. Some people may feel lost because they are no longer receiving active treatment; others may have a hard time adjusting to not seeing their health care team regularly. Along with the relief some might feel at finishing treatment, it is normal to have concerns about recovery and the future.

The Living Beyond Cancer Video Series provides information about what cancer patients can expect after their treatment ends. You can watch these videos by clicking the links below. 

What is Follow-up Care?

Physical Activity

Short- and Long-term Side-Effects of Radiation Therapy


Short- and Long-term Side-Effects of Chemotherapy

Practical Supports and Coping (Social Work)

Spiritual Care: Finding Meaning

Survivorship Care Plans are available for cancer patients who have completed treatment. These care plans:

  • describe recommended follow-up care
  • help individuals manage their life after cancer treatment
  • understand what they can do to reduce their risk recurrence
  • explain the tests that are recommended

There is a general cancer survivorship care plan, as well as specific ones for breast, colon, rectal, thyroid and prostate cancer.  

Support groups may be offered at the Cancer Centres in Halifax and Sydney, and in the community where individuals live through the Cancer Care Program or community-based organizations. These groups may be held in person, through virtual care or online.   

Some cancer support groups are for patients and others are for family and/or friends of the patient. Groups may be led by a health care professional or by cancer patients and/or survivors. 

Helping patients find a support group: 

Psychosocial Oncology Referral Line 902-240-8129 (Province-wide) 
Social Worker at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre 902-567-8551 
Social Worker at Yarmouth Regional Hospital (Tri-Counties)
 902-742-3542 ext. 1748 
Social Worker at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital 902-867-4500 ext. 4993 
Cancer Patient Navigators 1-866-524-1234 (outside of Halifax) 
Canadian Cancer Society  1-888-939-3333 or visit 
Wellspring Cancer Support   1-877-499-9904 or visit 

If searching for a support group or cancer information online, please be sure to look at trusted sites such as cancer agencies and reputable health organizations. 

Most of these helpful books are available in your local library or bookstore: 

  • Cancer is a Word Not a Sentence: A Practical Guide to Help You Through the First Few Weeks by Dr. Robert Buckman  (Firefly Books, 2006)
  • The Essential Cancer Treatment Nutrition Guide and Cookbook by Jean Lamantia (Robert Rose, 2012)
  • The Healing Journey: Overcoming the Crisis of Cancer by Alastair J Cunningham (Healing Journey Books, 2010) 
  • The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chodron (Shambhala, 2002)
  • When a Parent is Sick: Helping Parents Explain Serious Illness to Children by Joan Hamilton (Pottersfield Press, 2007)
  • Men Cancer Sex by Anne Katz (Oncology Nursing Society, 2010)
  • Women Cancer Sex by Anne Katz (Oncology Nursing Society, 2009)
  • Life after Cancer. A Guide for Cancer Survivors (Canadian Cancer Society, 2008) 
  • Facing Forward Series: Life After Cancer Treatment (National Institutes of Health, 2018
  • Living Well After Cancer: A Guide for Cancer Survivors, Their Families and Friends (Cancer Council Australia, 2021) 
  • Picking Up the Pieces: Moving Forward after Surviving Cancer, by Sherri Magee and Kathy Scalzo (Rutgers University Press, 2007) 
  • After You Ring the Bell…10 Challenges for Cancer Survivor, by Anne Katz (Oncology Nursing Society, 2020)  
  • When someone You Love Has Completed Cancer Treatment (National Institutes of Health, 2014)
  • Beyond Surviving Cancer and Your Spiritual Journey, by David Maginley (Tristan Press, 2017)

Practical and Financial Supports

If your patient requires assistance with transportation costs or accommodations while in Halifax or Sydney related to their cancer treatment, they may be eligible for support through various programs including the NS Government Boarding, Transportation and Ostomy Program.  You may provide your patients with the BTO FAQ document below and/or refer them to the cancer patient navigator or social worker in your area.

The Canadian Cancer Society Travel Treatment Fund offers short-term financial assistance to cover some costs of travelling to cancer treatments. This includes expenses like fuel and taxi or public transit fares. It is available to people with a low income who are currently receiving cancer treatment.  

For more information:

Drug Access Navigators (DAN) are members of the cancer care team who specialize in drug coverage and drug access. They can help ensure patients get the best coverage possible. They are available in all parts of the province.  Any member of the health care team can refer a patient to a DAN.

There are patient information sheets that provide information on practical support programs such as financial concerns and resources, medication coverage and frequently asked questions, getting to treatment and where to stay. 

Resources for Health Care Providers

Early Integration of the Palliative Approach in Oncology

For many cancer patients who have been diagnosed with a non-curable cancer, providing the palliative approach to care in oncology greatly enhances their quality of life. This approach to care is grounded in evidence-based best practice, and is the responsibility of all health care providers.

This approach includes:  

  • Early identification of patients diagnosed with life-limiting illness (i.e., patients with metastatic disease) 
  • Routine symptom screening (Patients Come First Distress Screening Tool) 
  • Functional assessment (PPS or ECOG) 
  • Discussions about advance care planning and goals of care (serious illness conversations) 
  • Referrals to and collaboration with appropriate specialist and community supports

  Resources are available to help health care providers enhance their skills in having serious illness conversations with their patients.   

LEAP Oncology is a one-day course that features an inter-professional approach, face-to-face learning with group discussion, case studies, and resources. LEAP Oncology is ideal for any health care professionals working in cancer care but whose primary focus is not palliative care. Course modules and case studies are contextualized to the cancer care setting and cover topics such as:

  • advance care planning
  • essential conversations
  • taking ownership
  • pain
  • delirium
  • nausea, nutrition, and hydration

LEAP Oncology is an Accredited Group Learning Activity as defined by the Maintenance of Certification program of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada for 7.5 hours.  The Cancer Care Program supports health care providers to take the LEAP ONCO course.  If you are interested contact Marianne Arab at

Palliative Care

Palliative care improves the quality of life of patients and their families who are facing problems associated with life-limiting illness. It prevents and relieves suffering through the early identification, assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, whether physical, psychosocial, or spiritual.  

Addressing suffering involves taking care of issues beyond physical symptoms. Palliative care uses a team approach to support patients and their caregivers. This includes addressing practical needs and providing bereavement counselling. It offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death. 

Primary care teams and non-palliative care specialist teams (e.g., oncology teams) all play a role in providing palliative care. These teams can access support from a palliative care specialist team for help with complex care planning and symptom management. Physicians can make referrals to the palliative care team in your area. For more information on teams in your area and how to make referrals, see the Palliative Care subject guide.  

Palliative care may include: 

  • Help with decisions about treatments 
  • Expert medical care to help with pain and other symptoms at home or in hospital 
  • End-of-life care 
  • Social, psychological, emotional, and spiritual support 
  • Music therapy 
  • Support for family, friends, and caregivers 
  • Trained volunteers to visit with patients 
  • Information about financial, legal, and other practical concerns 
  • Bereavement support

Relevant subject guides: