Anxiety, Not Depression, Seems to Be Problem for Long-Term Cancer Survivors and Spouses

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Because of better diagnostic tests and treatments, people are living longer than ever after a cancer diagnosis, including a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Doctors wondered if these long-term survivors had a higher risk of mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, compared to people who hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer.

A study suggests that anxiety is likely to be the biggest issue for long-term survivors and their spouses.

The study was published online by The Lancet Oncology on June 5, 2013. Read the abstract of “Depression and anxiety in long-term cancer survivors compared with spouses and healthy controls: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”

The study was a meta-analysis – a study that combines and analyzes the results of many earlier studies. In this case, the researchers analyzed 43 studies:

  • 16 looked at depression in long-term survivors compared to people who hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer
  • 10 looked at anxiety in long-term survivors compared to undiagnosed people
  • 12 looked at depression in long-term survivors and spouses
  • Five looked at anxiety in long-term survivors and spouses

People who had survived at least 2 years after a cancer diagnosis were considered long-term survivors.

The researchers found that:

  • depression was about 14% more common
  • anxiety was about 29% more common

in long-term survivors compared to undiagnosed people.

In the studies comparing long-term survivors and their spouses, the researchers found:

  • 26.7% of long-term survivors and 26.3% of their spouses were depressed
  • 28% of long-term survivors and 40.1% of their spouses felt anxiety

The results of this study echo the results of earlier research showing that many women diagnosed with breast cancer have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, as well studies showing that male partners of women diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to suffer from depression and other serious mood disorders compared to men whose partners haven’t been diagnosed with breast cancer.

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s understandable that you may feel angry, fearful, helpless, anxious, and many other emotions as you move through treatment and recovery. Still, allowing negative emotions to take over won’t help your overall health and well-being.

After your main breast cancer treatment is done, it’s important to focus on what’s now most important: your good health. You have to make sure you get the best ongoing care – both physically and mentally – and live your best life.

Research suggests there are several factors that seem to be associated with a greater chance of good emotional health:

  • Having a good support network. The value of support from your family and friends is obvious, but support from other patients and survivors is also very powerful.
  • Being and staying in good physical shape. There is growing evidence that shows exercise (and a healthy diet) can help maintain emotional well-being during and beyond breast cancer treatment.
  • Having an excellent relationship with your doctor. A doctor who understands your situation, takes time to answer your questions, and truly is a partner in your care can make a big difference.

Several complementary and holistic medicine techniques also have been shown to ease anxiety and depression, including:

  • aromatherapy
  • guided imagery
  • hypnosis
  • journaling
  • massage
  • meditation
  • yoga
  • tai chi

Make a deal with yourself: you will do the best you can to love yourself, speak up for yourself, take care of yourself, and take advantage of the best care possible. Remember, there’s only one of you, and YOU deserve the best outcome possible, both physically and emotionally.

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