Anxiety and depression shortens life of lung cancer patients

It is not always possible to remain calm and not to overthink everything. People who are diagnosed with cancer often suffer from anxiety and depression. Although focus of the medical care in these cases cannot be shifted from treating cancer, emotional condition should be taken into account. A new study revealed that lung cancer patients with anxiety, depression die sooner.

Lung cancer patients with anxiety and depression live shorter on average, but scientists are not sure if the effects are direct. Image credit: Julie via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

It is a well-known fact that dealing with cancer diagnosis is extremely difficult. However, this study from the University of British Columbia and BC Cancer Agency is one of the first ones to take a look how anxiety and depression affect chances of survival. Science community was actually interested in this subject for quite a while, but long-term studies were limited. Now researchers took a look at how emotional health of lung cancer patients affects their survival rates. Scientists say that results indicate a need for emotional support to go along the usual cancer treatment.

There were 684 patients participating in this study. All of them recently heard the diagnosis of stage three non-small cell lung cancer, which has a poor survival rate of 30-46 % after one year. Participants had to complete a questionnaire, which helped scientists identifying depression and anxiety symptoms. Then researchers took into account such factors as sex, age, ethnicity and so on, and noticed that there is a definite correlation between anxiety and depression after diagnosis and shorter survival rates. Although the effect seems to be small, scientists say that results are reliable because of methods used in the study.

Study cannot explain if anxiety and depression are causing reduced survival rate directly or there are some other factors involved. Dr. Robert Olson, senior author of the study, said: “It is likely that other unmeasured factors that correlate with high anxiety and depression, such as less social support, could play a role. However, the relationship that we found is significant, and certainly worth further exploration into whether interventions to improve anxiety and depression in lung cancer patients can improve survival rates”. Interestingly, researcher could not access data if people continued smoking after diagnosis, but this can also contribute to their anxiety levels.

Now scientists will shift their attention towards prostate cancer. They will try to see if life expectancy of these patients is also affected by their emotional state.