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by HIS Breast Cancer Awareness

Managing Mental Health After a Cancer Diagnosis


Experiencing a life-threatening illness affects more than a patient’s physical health. The emotional stress, uncertainty, and physical pain can all take a toll on an individual’s mental health. This is especially true for cancer patients. From processing the news of a cancer diagnosis to navigating the plan of care, it is important for cancer patients to focus on both the body and the mind.

While this can be challenging, the support of loved ones can help individuals undergoing cancer treatment take stock of how they are feeling physically and emotionally to manage their mental health.

How Cancer Affects Mental Health

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a life-changing and emotional event for patients and their families, making it important to monitor one’s mental health alongside physical health. According to a resource from Mental Health America on cancer and mental health it is estimated that up to one-third of people treated for cancer in hospitals have a common mental health condition. Additionally, it is believed that anywhere from 8% to 24% of people with cancer also have depression.

Research has also shown there may be a connection between mental health and cancer survival; in one study of U.S. veterans, cancer patients who also received mental health services lived longer than those who did not. While the reason for the connection is not known, researchers speculate that cancer patients who are experiencing depression may be less likely to follow treatment plans and take preventive screenings and more likely to miss therapy appointments.


Mental Health Symptoms: Distress, Depression, and Anxiety

When going through cancer treatment, patients, along with their family and health care provider, can monitor for signs of mental health issues. Many of the feelings one may experience are similar to those of an individual with a mental health condition.

However, “some mental health symptoms may overlap with symptoms related to cancer or side effects from treatment, including appetite, weight, and sleep changes, as well as changes in concentration and motivation,” according to an article in Oncology Nurse AdvisorExternal link:open_in_new. This factor makes it even more important for cancer patients to have open, honest communication with their support system.

Mental health issues commonly experienced by cancer patients include distress, depression, and anxiety.