Can-Helper: India’s first toll-free emotional support helpline for cancer patients and their families

Cancer image

28th August 2020, Mumbai: Cancer patients and their families in Mumbai and Pune can now dial into Can-Helper – a first-of-its-kind toll-free helpline to provide support for fear, anxiety and stress related to cancer. This service, operated by experienced counsellors, is available on a toll-free number 09511948920 on all days of the week from 10 am to 6 pm in English, Hindi and Marathi.

Whilst cancer impacts the emotional wellbeing of all patients, it is estimated that one out of every three cancer patients requires interventions to address their emotional distress- the most common problems being anxiety and depression 1. These psychosocial problems have become even more acute in COVID due to lack of continuity of care, reduced social support, increased financial burden from loss of jobs etc.

Can-Helper (Cancer Helpline for Emotional Respite) is launched by Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai and Cipla Palliative Care & Training Centre Pune in association with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to address the specific psychosocial needs of cancer patients and their caregivers, especially those in the advanced stage of the disease.

Talking about the service, Dr. Badwe, Director, Tata Memorial Centre said, “The COVID -19 pandemic has had a disastrous impact on all patients and especially those with serious chronic illnesses including advanced cancer. With this helpline, we hope to address psychosocial counselling needs to reduce the stress and anxiety of the patients and their family members. We will also include patient navigators in this endeavour to retain the continuum of care”

Psychosocial support has been identified as vital in decreasing the levels of stress, anxiety and depression in cancer patients 2.

Speaking about this initiative, Rumana Hamied, Trustee, Cipla Palliative Care &Training Centre said, “We realised the need for such a service when our home care team spoke to patients and families during COVID who told us about their fears of treatment being delayed, worries related to their family members due to lack of nursing care support and a growing sense of isolation and helplessness. We hope that callers to the helpline will be better equipped with resources, strategies and confidence to cope in these uncertain times”.


Cancer patients are facing serious challenges and experiencing anxiety, fear,, loneliness, and helplessness.

1. Garutti M, Cortiula F, Puglisi F. Seven Shades of Black Thoughts: COVID-19 and Its Psychological Consequences on Cancer Patients. Front Oncol. 2020;10:1357.
It is estimated that the prevalence of emotional distress of patients with cancer range from 41.7% to 46%. The most common disorders were anxiety and depression.
2. Alexander A, Sreenath K, Murthy R S. Beyond numbers – Recent understanding of emotional needs of persons diagnosed with cancer 2007–2018. Indian J Palliative Care [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Jul 27]; 26:120-8. Available from: