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Anxiety Is a Long-term Problem for Cancer Survivors and Spouses

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Key Points

  • A meta-analysis of 43 studies involving 51,381 cancer survivors found that 18% experienced serious anxiety 2 to 10 years following a cancer diagnosis.
  • A further analysis that looked at couples found that anxiety in that same time period increased to 28% in survivors and 40% in their spouses.
  • Anxiety, rather than depression, is most likely to be a lingering problem for long-term cancer survivors and their spouses, and efforts should be made to spot the disorder and provide appropriate treatment.

An analysis assessing whether depression and anxiety are more common in long-term survivors of cancer compared with their spouses and with healthy control subjects has found that anxiety, rather than depression, is most likely to be a lingering problem for both cancer survivors and their spouses. The results were published in the July issue of Lancet Oncology.

Study Details

The analysis examined 43 studies involving 51,381 survivors of a range of cancers and found that, overall, nearly 18% of patients experienced serious anxiety 2 to 10 years following a cancer diagnosis, compared with about 14% of the general population. The prevalence of depression was 11.6% in the pooled sample of cancer survivors and 10.2% in 217,630 healthy controls. In a further analysis that looked at couples, anxiety in that same time frame increased to 28% in survivors and 40% in their spouses. The analysis did not identify whether certain cancers had a greater psychological impact on survivors and their spouses than others.

“In the period immediately after a diagnosis, depression is roughly twice as common as in healthy controls, but this increased risk only lasts for roughly 2 years. An increased risk of anxiety disorders seems to persist for up to 10 years or more,” wrote the researchers.

Preserving Quality of Life

Anxiety can dampen the quality of life of survivors, and the emotional toll it places on survivors should not be underestimated, said the researchers. Possible predictors of anxiety after a cancer diagnosis include poor social support, impaired quality of life, pain, and burden of disease. “Some evidence suggests that symptom burden has less of an effect on prediction of anxiety than on prediction of depression after cancer, which could explain the relative persistence of anxiety compared with depression in long-term cancer survivors,” said the researchers.

Although there were some drawbacks to the meta-analysis, including limited information about the mental histories of the patients prior to their cancer diagnosis and substantial heterogeneity in the studies used, the researchers concluded that their findings underline the importance of detection and treatment of anxiety disorders in long-term cancer survivors and their spouses.

The study authors declared no conflicts of interest.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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