Physical Comorbidities Tied To Increased Psychological Distress in Cancer Patients

Cancer patients with physical comorbidities may be at an increased risk for psychological distress, according to a study.

“Physical and psychiatric comorbidities are common in cancer patients and could impact their treatment and prognosis. However, the evidence base regarding the influence of comorbidities in the management and health service use of patients is still scant,” the study authors explained.

The researchers collected data from the National Health Survey of Spain from 2017. Patients who reported a cancer diagnosis (n=484) were matched by age, gender, and region to controls without a history of cancer (n=484). Using information pertaining to 28 chronic conditions, the study authors created four alternative physical comorbidities indices. Outcomes included psychological distress and having a consulted a mental healthcare professional during the one-year period before filling out the survey.

Even though 30% of the patients with cancer reported significant psychological distress, just 10% reported consulting a mental healthcare professional—and distress was largely affected by comorbidities, which affected control patients differently, according to the authors: “After adjusting for sociodemographic variables, among cancer patients each additional comorbidity was associated with 9% higher odds of reporting high psychological distress (odds ratio [OR] = 1.09, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.01–1.16) and 21% higher odds of having consulted a mental healthcare professional (OR = 1.21, 95% CI: 1.09–1.34). The effects of comorbidities depended on the type of index and were different in controls without cancer history.”

“Comorbidities often influence the choice and management of cancer treatment. These results suggest that they could also be important for patients’ mental health in the months following diagnosis,” said the study’s first author Dafina Petrova, PhD, of the Andalusian School of Public Health, in Spain, in a press release.

The results of the study were published in Psycho-Oncology.

In their conclusion Dr. Petrova and fellow authors wrote, “Physical comorbidities in cancer patients are associated with higher risk of psychological distress and higher demand for mental health services. We encourage further research on this issue as it could improve mental health screening and management in oncologic care.”