Cancer and Mental Health Issues

Simply hearing the word “cancer” said by a doctor may have a tremendous effect on a person. A cancer diagnosis starts a long journey that can impact one’s physical health, mental well-being, and connections with family and friends. While patients should focus on the medical elements of cancer therapy, they should not overlook the emotional implications of illness. 

One of the most effective ways for patients to enhance their quality of life is to educate themselves about their condition. Education can help to demystify the disease and make it less and frightening. In this regard, information from your doctor and other reputable sources might be quite beneficial.

The financial, social, and physiological circumstances may all alter due to cancer and cancer treatment. Possessing a realistic attitude and awareness that cancer may affect many facets of life is beneficial. Patients should not be reluctant to express their emotions to their doctors, especially when they entail concerns.

According to studies, cancer care physicians misunderstand a patient’s discomfort or psychiatric problems up to 35% of the time. As a result, it is critical to inform your doctor of any discomfort, worry, or despair. Some people are hesitant to seek psychological assistance because they believe it is reserved for the weak or illogical.

Like any other organ, the brain is susceptible to disease in other regions of the body, which can negatively affect an individual’s well-being. It is essential to seek medical assistance when changes create discomfort or dissatisfaction.

Why is it critical to maintain mental health?

Mental health refers to the emotional, psychological, and social well-being of an individual. These facets of an individual’s well-being may be impacted following a cancer diagnosis, throughout treatment, and during remission. 

It’s critical to keep in mind that your health care team exists to treat you as a full person, including your mental health problems. Stress, worry, and tiredness are all frequent reactions to a cancer diagnosis. When these sentiments emerge, discussing them with your health care provider can help to enhance your mental well-being and give a tremendous sense of relief.

What mental health issues may arise with a cancer diagnosis?

One or more of the following may indicate a mental health concern:

  • Sadness 

Being sad is a natural reaction to a cancer diagnosis. It is critical to monitor strong bouts of sorrow, as they might develop into depression.

  • Depression 

Being depressed is a significant mental health concern for cancer patients. Depression is estimated to affect between 16 and 25% of cancer patients. Around 35% of these instances go undiagnosed, and many people stay untreated. 

Additionally, depression is more prevalent in cancer patients than in the general population. Depression is classified into various subtypes, with major depression being the most prominent. Major depression is described as the presence of at least five of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:

o   Almost every day, a depressed mood 

o  Loss of enjoyment or interest in regular activities 

o   Substantial weight loss/gain and appetite change

o   Sleeping more or less than normal

o   Everyday fatigue or energy loss

o   Reduced capacity to think or focus

o   Suicidal thoughts frequently 

  • Anxiety 

Anxiety is a natural response to receiving a cancer diagnosis. When individuals perceive a threat, their stress level naturally increases. Cancer may be extremely deadly, which is why many people experience anxiety. Shaking, a rapid or irregular heartbeat and intense anxiety are all symptoms. 

Anxiety can strike at any point during the cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment process. Around 48% of cancer patients report having high anxiety levels, and 18% have anxiety disorders. Chronic anxiety might eventually result in depression or exhaustion (severe weariness).

  • Negativity and Uncertainty

Survivors frequently experience uncertainty and negativity while planning their future since they are uncertain about their cancer treatment outcome. If a cancer survivor is experiencing bad emotions, it’s critical to realize that everyone suffers low points. Recognizing and acknowledging feelings of exhaustion, worry, anger, and despair is a great step.

Openly and honestly expressing one’s sentiments may frequently assist in relieving stress and anxiety. While strong emotions like self-loathing, a desire to blame others, excessive tension, and guilt might be scary, they are rather normal.

  • Fear and Anger

Anger is a natural emotion to the disruption of routine that a cancer diagnosis may bring. Friends and family members are almost certainly experiencing the same sentiments. When powerful emotions such as rage are suppressed, sadness, fatigue, hopelessness, and a lack of drive can emerge. It is critical to express these emotions to friends, family, or certified healthcare experts.

Mental Health Problems While Experiencing Cancer Can Affect Outcomes

Depression has been linked to a poorer prognosis for cancer. Patients may be less likely to adhere to treatment regimens or undergo screenings for prevention. They may also be less likely to exercise, more likely to consume excessive alcohol, or miss therapy appointments.

Those with severe mental illness, dementia, or substance abuse are more likely to have a reduced probability of survival following a cancer diagnosis.

Treatment for Mental Illness Can Increase Survival Rates

Numerous specialists question whether mental health treatment has the potential to alter the course of cancer, and there is reason to believe it can! According to one study, individuals who received therapy and experienced fewer symptoms of depression had much higher average survival durations than those who experienced greater symptoms of depression.

Individuals who get therapy frequently see improvements in their general medical condition, are more likely to adhere to medical care, and have a higher quality of life.

What can your health care team do to assist you?

By providing a complete medical history (including any past mental health diagnosis), you can help your health care team deliver better care. If any of the feelings mentioned above occur, discuss them with your health care team and request a referral to a counselor. Your doctor may order a psychological examination if required. 

Bear in mind that treating the “whole person” includes treating one’s emotions, which implies that your health care team must be informed of any emotional discomfort. Whichever health care professional you visit, whether a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist, they must interact with the rest of your health care team. Finally, inform your oncologist if you are on any psychotropic medicines.


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