Anxiety and Depression and Increased Risk of Death

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

AUGUST 08, 2017

This is an introduction to a brief, but tantalizing, article from Cancer, the publication of the American Cancer Society. It reports a single study from England, Scotland, and Australia that found the people with five specific cancers (leukemia, pancreas, esophageal, prostate, and bowel) who had the highest distress scores were more likely to die than people with the lowest distress scores.

A caveat that this is not as simple or straight forward as it may first seem. No one is suggesting that the higher distress scores, measuring anxiety and depression, means that those feelings caused the deaths. This is most certainly not a return to any outdated thoughts that mood or positive thinking or better stress management directly impact prognosis. They don't.

My own musings cluster around the larger lives of these individuals. Did the more distressed group have less family/social support? Were they already depressed and did not seek medical attention until the cancer was more advanced? Did they comply with the recommended treatment or were they unable to do so? Did financial or insurance issues contribute to their depression as well as to their inability to secure appropriate care? Is most certainly is a many layered problem that deserves further study.

Here is the start and a link:

Anxiety and Depression May Contribute to an Increased Risk of Death in Some Cancers

Higher levels of psychological distress, specifically anxiety and depression, may be tied to an increased risk of death in certain cancers, according to a recent study.1 Although the study was observational, the authors believe it adds to a growing body of evidence indicating that these types of distress could predict certain physical conditions. They cite as an example previous evidence that has shown a relationship between anxiety and depression and increased rates of cardiovascular disease. 
For the study, researchers from University College London in England; the University of Edinburgh in Scotland; and the University of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia, examined data from 16 studies (13 from England and 3 from Scotland), which began between 1994 and 2008. A total of 163,363 men and women aged 16 years and older who were free of cancer at the start of the study were followed for an average of 9 years, during which time 4353 participants died of cancer. Psychological distress scores were measured through general questionnaires.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
View All Articles