Anxiety and Cancer
In many cases, cancer and anxiety go hand-in-hand, as some patients may experience anxiety when diagnosed with the disease or while undergoing treatment. However, intense anxiety related to diagnosis, treatment, and future concerns is more likely to occur in patients who already have a history of anxiety disorders and in patients who are experiencing anxiety and a cancer diagnosis at the same time.
An Overview of Anxiety and Cancer
Anxiety is a normal reaction to cancer. You may experience anxiety while undergoing a cancer screening test, waiting for test results, receiving a diagnosis of cancer, undergoing cancer treatment, or anticipating a recurrence of cancer.
Anxiety associated with cancer may:
- Increase feelings of pain
- Interfere with one's ability to sleep
- Cause nausea and vomiting
- Interfere with the patient's (and his or her family's) quality of life.
If left untreated, severe anxiety may even shorten a patient's life.
People with cancer may find that their feelings of anxiety increase or decrease at different times. A patient may become more anxious as cancer spreads or treatment becomes more intense. The level of cancer anxiety experienced by one person may differ from the anxiety experienced by another person.
Most patients are able to reduce their anxiety by learning more about their cancer and the treatment they can expect to receive. For some patients, particularly those who have experienced episodes of intense anxiety before their cancer diagnosis, feelings of anxiety may become overwhelming and interfere with cancer treatment. Most patients who have not had an anxiety condition before their cancer diagnosis will not develop an anxiety disorder associated with cancer.
Intense anxiety associated with cancer treatment is more likely to occur in patients with a history of anxiety disorders and patients who are experiencing anxiety at the time of diagnosis. Anxiety may also be experienced by patients who:
- Are in severe pain
- Are disabled
- Have few friends or family members to care for them
- Have cancer that is not responding to treatment
- Have a history of severe physical or emotional trauma.
Central nervous system metastases and tumors in the lungs may create physical problems that cause anxiety. Many cancer medications and treatments can aggravate feelings of anxiety as well.
Contrary to what one might expect, patients with advanced cancer experience anxiety, not because of a fear of death, but more often from fear of uncontrolled pain, being left alone, or dependency on others. Many of these factors can be alleviated with treatment.