Cancer and Mental Health

Cancer mental healthCancer diagnosis can change the course of one’s life due to the huge uncertainties brought about by the course of the disease, the treatment, the prognosis, as well as debilitating complications of treatment. Consequently, patients might experience difficulties in many important areas, such as their social relationships, personal and professional performance, and their mental health. And although remission rates have improved in recent years (up to 96% in North America for some cancers such as primary breast cancer), some cancer survivors live with enduring poor quality of life and psychological distress. For some people, mental health concerns persist long after the cancer is considered to be resolved.

In a recent study published last year, the authors assessed mental health status among patients diagnosed with breast cancer. They found that 34% of these patients experienced significant anxiety after their diagnosis. Almost 20% of these patients experienced clinically significant depressive symptoms. Moreover, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was shown in 31% of the patients even before treatment began.

Another recent study showed that cognitive-behavioral stress management interventions (e.g., relaxation training, stress reappraisal), proper diet, nutraceuticals and moderate-intensity physical activity can reduce stress, blood cortisol levels (a stress hormone), anxiety, depression, avoidance, intrusive thoughts, and negative mood in cancer patients. Such care, provided through integrative natural medicine, could be offered to cancer patients as an early intervention, to reduce distress and prevent escalating symptoms.

Due to the high incidence of mental health concerns in patients with cancer, and its significant impact on a person’s successful response to treatment, screening for distress symptoms in cancer patients at all stages of the disease is an important part of the Integrative Cancer Care Program at KIHC. Early screening and treatments for mental distress could facilitate adherence to cancer treatment protocols, increase quality of life, and improve chances of cancer remission.




Fortin J, Leblanc M, Elgbeili G, Cordova MJ, Marin MF, Brunet A. The mental health impacts of receiving a breast cancer diagnosis: A meta-analysis. Br J Cancer. 2021 Nov 23; 125(11): 1582–1592.

Tang M, Liu X, Wu Q, Shi Y. The effects of cognitive-behavioral stress management for breast cancer patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Cancer Nurs. 2020; 43:222–37.

Bower JE. Behavioral symptoms in patients with breast cancer and survivors. J Clin Oncol. 2008; 26:768–77.



*Photo by Anastasiya Gepp from Pexels.

cancer, Mental health


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