Anxiety Home > Cancer and Anxiety

Cancer and anxiety understandably go hand-in-hand, as some patients may experience anxiety when first diagnosed or while undergoing treatment. If the anxiety becomes overwhelming, however, treatment should be sought. Excessive concerns related to diagnosis, treatment, and the future regarding cancer, and anxiety that is unrelenting and intense (such as phobias or obsessive-compulsive disorder), can affect a person's cancer treatment and quality of life.

Cancer and Anxiety: An Introduction

Anxiety is a normal reaction to cancer. People may experience anxiety while:
  • Undergoing a cancer screening test
  • Waiting for test results
  • Receiving a diagnosis of cancer
  • Undergoing cancer treatment
  • 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, and 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 anxiety experienced by one person with cancer 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 in 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 also aggravate feelings of anxiety.
Contrary to what one might expect, patients with advanced cancer experience anxiety, not due to 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.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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