We also want to reassure patients who are struggling that they are not alone or unique, and that these mental and emotional challenges can be temporary, especially with effective psychological support or state-of-the-art mental health treatment.
—Anja Mehnert, PhD
Researchers in Germany report that nearly a third of more than 2,100 patients with cancer interviewed at inpatient and outpatient care centers experienced a clinically meaningful level of mental or emotional distress that meets the strict diagnostic criteria for mental disorders including anxiety and depressive and adjustment disorders during the prior 4 weeks. The prevalence of these issues varied by cancer type.
The highest prevalence was found among patients with breast cancer (42%) and head and neck cancer (41%), followed by malignant melanoma (39%). The lowest prevalence was seen among patients with prostate cancer (22%), stomach cancers (21%), and pancreatic cancer (20%). The study was published recently in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.1
Awareness of Mental and Emotional Distress Critical
“These findings reinforce that, as doctors, we need to be very aware of signs and symptoms of mental and emotional distress. 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 health disorders. This research also sheds light on which patients we should watch more closely,” said lead study author Anja Mehnert, PhD, Professor of Psychosocial Oncology at the University of Leipzig in Germany. “We also want to reassure patients who are struggling that they are not alone or unique, and that these mental and emotional challenges can be temporary, especially with effective psychological support or state-of-the-art mental health treatment.”
Psychological support options may include individual, couples, family, and group psychotherapy, and relaxation therapy and imagery, among others, according to the authors.
The authors noted that prior studies have reported elevated levels of distress among people with cancer, but they vary in quality due to small sample sizes, different diagnostic criteria and assessment standards, and an over-representation of women with breast cancer.
This multicenter study, funded by the German Cancer Aid, was coordinated by the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf; participating study centers included the University Medical Centers of Freiburg, Heidelberg, Leipzig, and Würzburg. For a more in-depth report on the study watch future issues of The ASCO Post. Also, for more on depression and cancer, see pages 110–113 in this issue. ■
1. One in three people with cancer has anxiety or other mental health challenges. J Clin Oncol. October 6, 2014 (early release online).