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Mental Health Distress Can Affect Cancer Outcomes


December 9, 2021

Ann Pietrangelo

Mental Health Distress Can Affect Cancer Outcomes: Here’s Where You Can Find Help

If you’re in treatment for cancer, there’s a good chance that your stress level has increased.

In a recent survey, more than 80 percent of oncologists say they frequently see mental health distress in their patients.

These findings, published by Cardinal Health Specialty Solutions, are the result of web-based surveys taken in September, October, and November 2021. Respondents included more than 240 oncologists in hospital and community-based practices.

Asked what types of mental health distress they see most frequently, 83 percent cited anxiety disorders and 81 percent named mood disorders, including depression. Substance use disorders, personality disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were also mentioned.

Dr. David Park is medical director and chair of hematology and medical oncology at Crosson Cancer Institute at Providence St. Jude Medical Center in Orange County, California.

Park told Healthline that he’s not at all surprised by this report.

“A cancer diagnosis is not good, obviously. And whatever underlying challenges you have get amplified. Not just for the patient, but for the family,” he said.

Whatever affects the general population, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, just adds an extra level of stress to people with cancer, Park said.

Manageable stress vs. mental health condition The survey found that more than 6 in 10 oncologists very frequently or frequently talk about mental health with their patients. About two-thirds say they formally screen patients for distress.

The extent of the concern isn’t always clear-cut or easily figured out in a day, said Park. “The first thing patients need to understand is that having stress and anxiety at this time is a normal part of the process. Life doesn’t stop. It becomes more complicated. In the United States, we’re into schedules and being busy and having it all. It’s really an unfair and unrealistic pressure we put on ourselves,” he said.