Mental Health Woes Strike Half of Cancer Patients

MONDAY Sept. 10, 2007 -- Half of all people with advanced or terminal cancer suffer from depression, anxiety or adjustment disorders and could use their oncologist's help getting treatment, according to a new study.

Physicians treating the cancer can screen for the mental disorders, but the most valuable screening tool is simply listening, the researchers said.

A team from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston reviewed published literature about psychiatric illness in cancer patients. They found that 50 percent or more of patients with advanced or terminal cancer are suffering from anxiety, depression or an adjustment disorder for which doctors can screen.

Writing in the Oct. 15 issue of Cancer, they called for oncologists and physicians to screen cancer patients for mental disorders and make the appropriate referrals for treatment and support groups.

According to the researchers, medical management of cancer has improved significantly over the past 10 years, but mental health care has not been fully integrated into cancer patients' treatment plans. Yet studies show that depression and anxiety can impact a patient's quality of life and attitude toward living and dying even more than physical pain.

Still, less than half of patients with advanced cancer receive treatment for their mental health concerns, the researchers wrote.

More than one-third of patients with advanced cancer and one-fifth of terminal patients suffer from an adjustment disorder. These disorders are characterized by mood swings, anxiety or disturbed sleep.

An additional third of patients with advanced cancer and one-fifth with terminal cancer suffer with a depressive disorder. Anxiety disorders affect nearly one out of 10 patients with advanced cancer and 14 percent of patients with terminal cancer.

The researchers argued that the most important tool doctors have is listening to the patients as they express their fears, concerns, hopes, griefs and final wishes.

More information

For some ideas about managing depression during cancer treatment, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Posted: September 2007


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