Mental Health Among Cancer Survivors Versus the General Population

Adult cancer survivors may be more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population, according to a new study.

For the comparison, researchers queried the National Survey on Drug Use and Health for data from 2015 to 2017. Respondents aged between 18 and 64 years were identified and stratified by whether they did or did not have a history of cancer. Adjusted analyses were performed, controlling for demographics and socioeconomic status. The main outcomes included past‐year major depressive episodes, serious psychological distress, suicidal thoughts, suicidal plans, suicidal attempts, any mental illness, and serious mental illness. Results were compared by age groups 18 to 34, 35 to 49, and 50 to 64.

Final analysis included 2,656 cancer survivors and 112,952 non-cancer controls. In each age group, cancer survivors had a higher rate of mental health problems in five of the seven outcome measures. In the 18 to 34 age group, cancer survivors were significantly more likely than non-cancer controls to have a one-year history of experiencing major depressive episodes (18.1% vs 9.6%), serious psychological distress (34.2% vs 17.9%), suicidal thoughts (10.5% vs 7.0%), any mental illness (41.1% vs 23.3%), and serious mental illness (13.2% vs 5.9%) (P<0.05 for all); outcomes were similar in adjusted analyses. Survivor versus control comparisons were similar in the older age groups, but the differences were not as pronounced. Young adult survivors, compared to the older two age groups, were more likely to experience mental health problems in all measured outcomes.

The study was published in Cancer.

“This finding highlights the importance of developing strategies to ensure the early detection of mental illness and to improve access to [mental health] treatment for cancer survivors,” the researchers stated.

Treating Mental Health in Cancer Patients: A ‘Magic’ Solution?

It’s estimated that close to 40% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime, and about one in every four cancer patients has clinical depression. In a follow-up of a 2016 study, researchers found that a one-time dose of psilocybin, in combination with psychotherapy, may provide significant long-term relief for cancer-related psychiatric distress.

Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic found in many species of mushrooms; a psilocybin mushroom is often referred to as a “magic mushroom.” The present study was a long-term follow-up study in which all 16 living patients from the first trial were invited to participate; 15 agreed and were followed up after an average 3.2 and 4.5 years following the psilocybin dose. At both follow-ups, the patients presented sustained improvements in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, demoralization, and death anxiety.