Advanced lung cancer patients who experience anxiety and depression after their diagnosis don’t live as long as those without the psychological burdens, a study shows.
The research, “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,” was published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.
Similar findings in studies of breast cancer patients add to evidence that psychosocial factors play a role in cancer patients’ survival rates.
“The question of whether anxiety and depression affect survival in cancer patients has been of interest to scientists for decades, but long-term research has been limited,” Andrea Vodermaier, the lead author of the study, said in a news release. “Our study confirms that there is indeed a link for lung cancer patients, and that it’s important for health-care providers to treat not only their tumor but also focus on the full emotional experience of the patient,” said Vodermaier, a postdoctoral research fellow in the University of British Columbia’s Department of Psychology.
To examine anxiety and depression’s effects on lung cancer patients’ survival rates, researchers asked 684 patients to fill out a PsychoSocial Screen for Cancer (PSSCAN) questionnaire. The patients had been diagnosed with stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer, but had yet to begin treatment at BC Cancer Agency facilities in Vancouver and Surrey.
After controlling for demographic, biomedical, and treatment factors, researchers found that patients who experienced anxiety and depression after being diagnosed with advanced lung cancer had shorter survival times.
While there was an association between anxiety and depression and lung cancer survival rates, the researchers cautioned against concluding there was a cause and effect relationship.
“It is likely that other unmeasured factors that correlate with high anxiety and depression, such as less social support, could play a role,” said radiation-oncology expert Robert Olson. “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.”
Olson is head of radiation oncology and developmental radiotherapeutics at UBC and head of radiation oncology at the BC Cancer Agency’s Center for the North in Prince George.
Researchers said one limitation of the study was lack of data on whether patients continued to smoke after they were diagnosed with lung cancer.
Because emotional distress is associated with people continuing to smoke and failing at smoking-cessation attempts, psychological interventions to reduce or ween lung cancer patients away from smoking could influence their length of survival. The research team is now examining the long-term effect of psychosocial factors on survival rates of patients with prostate cancer.
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