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Cancer Diagnosis & Mental Health

November  08,  2014 in

A group of German researchers has just released a study confirming what many may already have suspected – a cancer diagnosis significantly increases a person’s chances of being diagnosed with a psychological disorder, and particularly depression or anxiety. Where the general population’s likelihood of having a mental disorder runs to a 20% risk, the stress of a cancer diagnosis increases that number to about 32%.  Importantly, the study does not conclude that cancer causes mental health disorders, but instead indicates that doctors and other health care professionals need to be highly sensitive to patients’ needs for emotional support, and treatment if necessary.

The study followed over 2,000 male and female patients between the ages of 18 and 75 who had been diagnosed with a variety of types of cancers.  They were interviewed using the standard questionnaire used as a diagnostic tool by mental health professionals worldwide. The study showed slightly more than 40% of patients had a higher prevalence of clinical mental disorders in those dealing with breast cancer, head and neck cancer and malignant melanoma.  Comparatively, around 20% of patients had lower rates of mental disorders when diagnosed with pancreatic, esophageal and prostate or stomach cancers.

Most of the diagnoses were for either anxiety or adjustment disorders in which the patients were unable to cope and had experienced difficulty in maintaining relationships or functioning as they previously had. The study’s lead author, Anja Menhert of the University of Leipzig, theorized that breast cancer patients might have higher diagnosis rates because women are more apt to be open about their emotional distress than men, and that the fear of the impact of their treatment on their identity as a woman might raise their level of concern.

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