Nguyen Thi Thien An, 45, of Binh Tan District, Ho Chi Minh City, burst into tears when the doctor told her she had skin cancer.

"Why me? It is not fair," she said. Initially, An felt frightened and was worried about her children and relatives.

Eventually, she became seriously depressed and lost five kilos.

She discovered that the cancer, which was diagnosed as Stage 1, could be treated and that she could survive a long time

Finally, she began to feel better and began to search for information about her cancer from many sources, including doctors, she said.

Tran Thi Uyen Phuong, a psychologist at Pham Ngoc Thach Medical University, said that An was typical of many cancer patients who often suffer depression after being diagnosed.

Many of them do not receive psychological counselling, she said.

Phuong, who regularly conducts research at Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital, said that her research found that counselling was essential for patients' recovery.

In another study conducted by doctors at the 103 Hospital of 264 patients with newly diagnosed cancer, 52 percent became depressed and 6 per cent severely depressed.

The study found that manual labourers' rate of depression was lower than the rate of more highly educated patients.

Patients with Stage III and IV cancers often fell into serious depression, the study found.

With advanced technologies increasing the effectiveness of cancer treatment, patients can live longer.

But in Vietnam, cancers are often detected in the late stages, and the survival rate remains low, according to the doctors at the 103 Hospital.

Thus, more patients fall into depression, which affects their physical well-being and hastens the progression of the disease.

At a two-day conference held on December 10 in Ho Chi Minh City, organised by the city's Oncology Hospital, medical experts said it was critical that cancer patients receive psychological support.

Phuong also said that psychological counselling should be provided at oncology hospitals.

She suggested that these hospitals should work with medical universities to create internships or other conditions for students majoring in psychology.

The university's psychology faculty should also have opportunities to conduct research at local hospitals, she added.

According to the World Health Organisation, cancers are the leading cause of deaths worldwide, accounting for 7.6 million deaths in 2008. Lung, stomach, liver, colon and breast cancer are the most common.

About 30 percent of cancer deaths are due to high body-mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and alcohol use, the WHO said.

In Vietnam, many hospitals have seen an increase in the number of cancer patients each year.

Le Hoang Minh, head of the city's Oncology Hospital, said that of all diseases, cancer was the leading cause of death in Vietnam.

The incidence of cancers treated at the hospital had increased 10 percent annually in recent years, he said.

The hospital has admitted more than 20,000 cancer patients for treatment this year.-VNA