Mental Health Issues Influence Lung Cancer Survival Rates

With the recent passing of Bell’s ‘Let’s Talk’ campaign, the population has been talking a lot about a major issue within our society — the stigma surrounding mental health.

Within any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from a mental health or addiction-related issue. To put this into perspective, once individuals reach the age of 40, a startling 1 in 2 have — or have had a mental health disorder.

What does this mean for our overall well-being?

Study Finds — Mental Health Causes Lung Cancer Patients to Die Sooner

Unlike seeking treatment for a physical injury or illness, many suffer in silence when it comes to mental wellness. Perhaps they do not want to be seen differently — or simply do not understand that they no longer need to feel sad and anxious.

As you’d expect, diminishing mental health will generally reduce one’s quality of life — but how will it affect those with a life-threatening illness?

It’s not well understood, that untreated mental health disorders often worsen, leading to physical ailments. For those who are already battling some form of illnesses, such as cancer, reduced mental wellness could influence survival rates.

Unfortunately, this has been seen among lung cancer patients, as those with mental health issues, appear to not live as long. More specifically, those suffering from depression or anxiety post-diagnosis. Following 684 patients, who had been undergoing treatment in Vancouver and Surrey, the researchers of this study focused on those who reported feeling depressed or anxious.

The lead author believes that the screening of depression and anxiety need to be taken more seriously at the Cancer Agency. Based on the results, they believe that it’s enough evidence to intervene, potentially helping patients live longer.

On a positive note, the agency has begun more thorough screening, with the hopes of helping those in need. Published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, these findings have led to a similar study — focusing on survival rates among prostate cancer patients.

How Does Psychological Health Affect Cancer?

It’s easy to understand why someone experiences psychological stress following such a devastating diagnosis. Once manageable stress evolves into distress, it’s recognized as a factor that can reduce one’s quality of life. As seen within this recent study, and past research, extreme distress is often associated with poorer clinical outcomes.

Here are a few things you need to know about prolonged feelings of stress:

  • As the body reacts to stress, hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine are released. In turn, you experience an increase in blood sugar, heart rate, and blood pressure.
  • When experiencing chronic stress, long-term, patients have experienced digestive and fertility issues, as well as reduced immune function. Symptoms of poor mental health can develop, as well as increased pain levels.
  • Although it’s unclear as to whether stress can cause cancer, it does appear to have serious implications for those who are already living with cancer. While studying mice, for instance, it’s been found that psychological stress can influence tumor growth and development.

In order to protect yourself — whether you are living with cancer or not, it’s important to practice stress management. For those who do have cancer or another chronic condition, talk about it. What is it that’s worrying you? How is it that you can take positive action? Sometimes, talking about how you’re feeling can make all the difference.

Meditation and exercise are also highly recommended, as they promote overall positive well-being — both mentally and physically.

If you currently have cancer and are struggling to regulate your emotions, please visit the Canadian Cancer Society for more information. The Canadian Mental Health Association is also a great resource — so please take the time to become more aware of your current state-of-mind in relation to your illness.

You’re not alone, so please remember, “Your illness does not define you — your strength and courage does.”

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