The Influence of Mental Health on the Development of Cancer

The Influence of Mental Health on the Development of Cancer

Last update: 11 August, 2017

We’re all aware of the damage cancer has on physical health. When it’s diagnosed, a treatment plan is made to attack it and overcome it, but people don’t often think about the importance of psychological well-being throughout the process.

Suffering from a disease like cancer can influence the development of psychological illnesses. Those with cancer have a higher prevalence of certain psychological and emotional disorders than the general population. But what factors related to cancer play a role in mental health?

“The most important thing in illness is never to lose heart.” 

-Nikolai Lenin-

Psychological disorders and cancer

In general, being hospitalized influences the development of adjustment disorders. It also reduces physical functioning and makes people feel like a burden on others. But not only that, the same thing happens with the initial adjustment to treatment, the patient’s previous experiences with stress, and the perception of social support.

woman praying

Even more specifically, with regard to depression, the patient’s age and the stage of the disease also play an important role. Other factors include physical side effects of treatment, a history of psychological issues, and low perceived social support.

“Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.”

-Jim Valvano-

There’s also the risk of suicidal ideation. This risk is increased if the patient has a more advanced stage of cancer and a bad prognosis. The presence of depression, feelings of helplessness, an increase in physical symptoms, a history of psychopathology, and a history of suicide attempts are also risk factors.

Finally, a higher prevalence of anxiety disorders has also been noted in people with cancer. Being younger, presenting anxious tendencies, and experiencing personal difficulties play a role in increasing the risk of suffering from an anxiety disorder. But physical factors can also do that, such as the stage of the illness, treatment issues, relapse, rejection of medication, and unmanageable pain.


The importance of psychological well-being in fighting cancer

Given that patients with cancer present a higher risk of impaired mental (and physical) health, it’s important to be aware of possible problems. In addition to the disorders we mentioned, it’s common for emotional distress, anxiety, and sadness to occur.

But how do psychological problems affect your general health? They are an added risk because they can be the direct cause of different physical complications. Depression, for example, comes along with a reduction in healthy lifestyle habits and can end up causing the patient to abandon treatment.

“Cancer is a disease where the patient can contribute a great deal of help himself if he or she can retain their morale and their hopes.”

-George Carman-

In general, these added difficulties can make patients need more medical services. They also affect how well the patient adheres to the treatment plan and can make it harder for them to make decisions. They might be less satisfied with the medical care they’re receiving or demand too much.

This is why it’s helpful to pay attention to the mental health of patients diagnosed with cancer. If any related warning signs are present, we recommend consulting a psychologist who specializes in this field. There’s nobody better who can evaluate the patient or schedule therapy sessions to help them maintain strong mental health. Like we’ve seen, this can have a very positive influence on the prognosis.

cancer ribbon

In particular, the patient can be taught active coping strategies and ways to change their behavior. In this way, they’ll be able to face all the emotions evoked by their situation in a more adaptive way and be able to regulate them better. This has been shown to improve adherence to treatment. Thus, the clinical outcome, and as a consequence, the patient’s quality of life, can be improved with psychological intervention.

Images courtesy of Cristianosoy, Slack and PDPics.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.