Cancer patients dealing with more than disease
More than one million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer each year. Of those, one out of three also wind up struggling with a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression, experts say.
According to a new study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, nearly 32 percent of cancer patients experience a full-blown psychological disorder after diagnosis. This is much higher than the 20 percent mental disorder rate of the general population, the study authors note.
For the study, researchers held face-to-face interviews with more than 2,100 cancer patients, all between the ages of 18 and 75-years-old. Each patient was assessed for mental health problems under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the standard diagnostic tool used by mental health professionals.
The researchers found that more than 40 percent of patients with breast cancer, head and neck cancer, and malignant melanoma also had a least one mental disorder. The lowest rates of mental disorder (around 20 percent) occurred among patients with pancreatic, prostate or stomach cancers.
While the most common disorders affecting patients were anxiety disorders and adjustment disorders (when a person cannot cope with a life crisis and is unable to function on a daily basis), the type of mental disorders varied depending on the patient’s cancer diagnosis, according to the study.
“Our findings reinforce that, as doctors, we need to be very aware of signs and symptoms of mental and emotional distress,” said lead study author Dr. Anja Mehnert, in a news release. “We must encourage patients to seek evaluation, support and treatment if necessary, as there are long-term risks often associated with more severe, untreated mental disorders.”
Oncologists and other physicians need to keep an eye out for signs of psychological distress and refer cancer patients to a mental health professional if it looks as if he or she is having trouble coping, the study authors conclude.
Additionally, psychological support can include family and friends, support groups in the community or even online support resources, says Dr. Michael Cochran, an oncologist at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill.
Many sites offer chat rooms or discussion boards for patients and families affected by cancer to post questions or offer advice, while other sites feature blogs and forums for individuals to talk about their experiences.
“You don’t have to wait any longer for the Thursday night group meeting, or worry about the weather getting there,” Dr. Cochran says. “You have ready access in your own home, which can be a definite advantage. I think it’s an excellent resource for patients.”
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