How Breast Cancer Can Affect Mental Health

How Breast Cancer Can Affect Mental Health

A breast cancer diagnosis can make you feel anxious and scared and may make you remember past trauma. Knowing how breast cancer can affect your mental health can help you get the support you need.

A breast cancer diagnosis can make you feel anxious, scared, or depressed and may make you remember past trauma. Knowing how breast cancer can affect your mental health can help you get the support you need.

Nearly one in every four people diagnosed with breast cancer experience depression, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). People who are diagnosed with breast cancer also are more likely to experience at least one or more of the following:

Taking care of your mental health and well-being after being diagnosed with breast cancer can help improve your quality of life — especially if you’re not feeling like yourself anymore. It may be helpful to consider mental health support services if you experience any of the following symptoms: 

  • sleep disturbances, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep

  • changes in your overall mood, such as feeling very sad or constantly stressed out or anxious

  • lack of joy or interest in activities you normally enjoy

  • changes in appetite that result in weight loss or gain

  • difficulty getting out of bed because of a lack of energy and not because of breast cancer treatment side effects

  • difficulty concentrating or focusing

  • using alcohol or drugs to reduce stress

  • noticing an increase in aches and pains, including headaches and stomachaches 

It’s important to know that you don’t have to be officially diagnosed with a mental health condition or disorder to get benefits from mental health services.

A breast cancer diagnosis may affect some people’s mental health more than it does others. Some factors that may influence how much breast cancer affects your mental health include: 

  • a history of mental illness before being diagnosed with breast cancer

  • a previous trauma 

  • being diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age

  • lack of social support from family, friends, or community 

  • lack of access to higher education

  • having lower income


Getting support after a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis

Regardless of whether metastatic breast cancer is a first diagnosis or a recurrence, it’s normal for people to feel angry, scared, stressed, outraged, depressed, or calm. You may question the treatments you’ve had, feel mad at your doctors, or be prepared to deal with the diagnosis in a matter-of-fact way. There is no right or wrong way to come to terms with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis.


Breast cancer treatments and mental health

Some breast cancer treatments can affect a person’s mental health, just as a breast cancer diagnosis can.

The following breast cancer treatments can contribute to symptoms of depression, anxiety, or mood swings in some people: 

  • Chemotherapy. These drugs can cause many side effects, including fatigue, nausea, and loss of appetite. But research also shows that some of these drugs are also linked with depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. Learn more.

  • Hormonal therapy. All hormonal therapies have side effects that may affect mood. For example, tamoxifen can cause early menopause and the aromatase inhibitors can cause joint pain, both of which can affect mood. Learn more.

  • Medical menopause. When your period stops for more than a year, you are considered to be in menopause. This process usually happens slowly. However, certain breast cancer treatments can cause menopause to begin very suddenly, which can cause changes to your mood. 

  • Hypothyroidism. The thyroid is a gland in the neck that helps to regulate hormones. Certain types of radiation therapy in the chest or neck area and immunotherapy medicines can affect the gland’s ability to work properly. When the thyroid is not active enough, you may feel tired or very blue.

Written by: Carolyn Sayre, freelance writer

Reviewed by 1 medical adviser
Stephanie Ross, PhD
NorthShore University HealthSystem, Evanston, IL
Learn more about our advisory board

— Last updated on September 22, 2022, 8:57 PM

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