Patients who experience anxiety and depression after being diagnosed with advanced lung cancer are more likely to die sooner, according to new research from UBC and the BC Cancer Agency.
The study is among the first to examine the effect of anxiety and depression on survival rates for lung cancer patients. The findings build on similar previous research looking at breast cancer patients, further deepening scientists’ understanding of the effect of psychosocial factors on survival rates for patients diagnosed with cancer.
The study confirms that it is important for health care providers to treat not only patients’ tumors but also focus on the full emotional experience of the patient.
For the study, researchers followed 684 patients undergoing treatment at the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver and Surrey. The patients were all recently diagnosed with stage three nonsmall-cell lung cancer, a common type of lung cancer with a poor survival rate of only 30% to 46% after 1 year.
Patients completed a psychological screening questionnaire that asked about anxiety and depression symptoms. After controlling for factors including age, sex, ethnicity, type of tumor, and treatment, researchers found that those who reported feeling anxious and depressed after diagnosis had a shorter length of survival. While the effect was small, the researchers were able to document it because of the large patient sample and controlled method.
Although the research shows a link between anxiety and depression and lung cancer survival rates, the findings cannot assess whether high anxiety or depression directly caused these worse outcomes, according to the senior author Dr Robert Olson, division head of radiation oncology and developmental radiotherapeutics at UBC, and department head of radiation oncology at the BC Cancer Agency’s Centre for the North in Prince George.
No data was available on whether the patients continued smoking after diagnosis. It is known that a significant proportion of lung cancer patients continue smoking or are unsuccessful trying to quit, and this struggle could also have affected their level of anxiety or depression, according to the researchers, who are now looking at the long-term effect of psychosocial factors on survival rates for patients with prostate cancer.
The study, “Anxiety after diagnosis predicts lung-cancer specific and overall survival in patients with stage III non-small cell lung cancer: A population-based cohort study,” is published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.
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