25 September 2008

Cancer survivors battle depression

Adult cancer survivors are very likely to suffer psychological distress severe enough to affect their social functioning, according to a study.

Adult cancer survivors are likely to suffer psychological distress severe enough to affect their social functioning, according to a study.

Dr Karen Hoffman, a radiation oncologist at the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program in Boston, presented the survey findings at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology's 50th Annual Meeting.

"We hope that our study will raise awareness of the fact that long-term cancer survivors are at increased risk for experiencing psychosocial distress and we hope that this will encourage physicians to evaluate their (cancer) patients for psychological distress either through simple questions or more formal screening that can be incorporated into the clinic visit," Hoffman said.

How the study was done
Using date from the 2002 - 2006 National Health Interview Survey, she and her colleagues identified 4 712 adults who survived for five years or longer after their initial cancer diagnosis and 126 841 people who had never had cancer.

Among cancer survivors, the average age at diagnosis was 47 years old and the average age at the time of the survey interview was 62 years. The majority were survivors of breast, gynaecologic, male genitourinary and colorectal cancer.

Severe psychological distress was higher among the long-term cancer survivors, at 5.6%, compared with 3% among individuals who were never diagnosed with cancer, which was a statistically significant difference.

"One in 18 long-term cancer survivors reported severe psychological distress, and long-term cancer survivors were almost twice as likely to report stress as those individuals never diagnosed with cancer," Hoffman reported.

What the study found
Long-term cancer survivors younger than age 65 years were more likely to experience severe psychological distress than were older survivors. Other factors associated with distress were other illnesses, not living with a spouse or partner, lower education level, lack of insurance and smoking.

Dr Louis Harrison of Beth Israel Medical Centre, New York, who moderated a press briefing where the findings were released, noted that psychological distress in cancer survivors is an "under-appreciated issue." – (Reuters Health, September 2008)

Read more:
Mind can't beat cancer
Writing may aid cancer patients


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Cancer expert

CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst. For more information, visit

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules