Imagine going to the doctor for something you thought was small, like a mole, a lump in your breast, or a persistent cough. Now, imagine finding out that what you thought was a small concern is in fact cancer. This emotional rollercoaster will be experienced by an estimated 1,665,540 this year alone, according to the American Cancer Society. Even if the disease is curable, stressors, such as medical bills and the fear of death, can trigger emotional outbreaks the person with cancer might not normally experience.

No one can blame these people for feeling scared, angry, or sad. At the same time, these patients need to seek aid not only from a doctor, but also from psychiatrists and therapists. This fact was the subject of a new study by the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO). The study, which published in mid-April, examined the current mental health practices in Canada for cancer patients. The panel members concluded that “failure to identify and treat anxiety and depression increases the risk for poor quality of life and potential disease-related morbidity and mortality."

The Study

Commissioned by the ASCO, this study's goal was to examine the necessity for anxiety and depression screenings in cancer patients ages 18 and older. Researchers began by assessing the current literature on the subject and determining the guidelines for mental health treatment in cancer patients. After acquiring this information, researchers met to discuss if the screening should be required or not.

After little deliberation, they agreed that a mental health screening needed to be implemented for cancer patients not only because mental health can affect physical health dramatically, but also because good mental health improves the patients' quality of life in general.

Supporting a Patient

According to the American Cancer Society, one in four people with cancer have clinical depression. Anxiety, a close relative of depression, is also very common in cancer patients. Regardless of if he or she has a diagnosed mental disorder, if your loved one or friend has been diagnosed with cancer, he or she is most likely feeling some emotional discomfort. It is important for you to help them through this difficult time any way you can. The American Cancer Society suggests doing the following:

  • Promote mild physical activity, like daily walks
  • Help make appointments or provide transportation to mental health appointments, if needed
  • Engage the person in conversation or activities he or she enjoys
  • Keep positive; reassure the person that with time and treatment, he or she will feel better.
  • Encourage patience with treatment regiments
  • Share feelings with the patient, and listen to his or her feelings
  • Try non-clinical spiritual and relaxation exercises, like mediation, deep breathing, and prayer
  • Talk to your doctor about using anti-anxiety or depression medications

Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open. You should be willing to talk and listen to your friend or loved one's problems, and they should be willing to listen to yours. Keeping the lines of communication open is vital to a healthy recovery and good mental health.

Date of original publication:


Barbara L. Andersen, Robert J. DeRubeis, Barry S. Berman, Jessie Gruman, Victoria L. Champion, Mary Jane Massie, Jimmie C. Holland, Ann H. Partridge, Kate Bak, Mark R. Somerfield, and Julia H. Rowland. Screening, Assessment, and Care of Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms in Adults With Cancer: An American Society of Clinical Oncology Guideline Adaptation. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 14 April 2014; DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2013.52.4611