Treatment of Mental Illness and Cancer Can Result in Better Outcomes

February 4th Is World Cancer Day

MERCERVILLE - The coronavirus has left people with preexisting conditions and illnesses particularly vulnerable. The American Cancer Society explains that people who have cancer are more susceptible to COVID-19 because they have an impaired immune system either due to the cancer or due to cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, stem cell transplant and surgery. Therefore, this increases their likelihood of contracting an illness. Individuals, especially those who have been recently diagnosed with cancer may experience stress because they may encounter difficulty accessing their treatment and other healthcare services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic can also increase a person's stress level and impact their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, an estimated one-third of people who are treated for cancer in hospitals have a mental health condition and the rates of major depressive disorder are thought to be up to three times higher than in the general population. Children and young adults who have cancer are also at a greater risk for depression and other conditions compared to adults who have cancer. Mental illness can be difficult to diagnose in individuals who have cancer because cancer, depression and anxiety can share symptoms, such as decreased appetite, fatigue and lack of sleep. Additionally, people who have a mental illness and cancer are more likely to have worse cancer-related outcomes. For example, a person might be less likely to exercise and more likely to miss therapy appointments or drink too much alcohol and these behaviors can exacerbate the cancer.

"While the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic can be difficult for everyone, they can be particularly different for individuals who have a mental illness, a substance use disorder or an illness that compromises a person's immune system, such as cancer. People who have a mental illness and cancer may not receive the treatment that they need. That's why events such as World Cancer Day is important because it raises awareness for improving education about cancer and increasing access to critical care," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO.

According to the National Behavioral Health Network, management of stress and the psychological effects of cancer could be the key to ensuring a longer survivorship. Mental Health America reported that a study found that individuals with cancer who received mental health treatment and had fewer symptoms of depression had longer survival times than those who experienced more depression symptoms and received no treatment. Mental Health America stated that there is evidence that supports the need for routine mental health screening in oncology settings. People who have both a mental illness and cancer are encouraged to talk with a therapist or loved ones about their thoughts and feelings and concentrate on maintaining their physical health, such as getting enough rest and eating healthfully.

February 4th is World Cancer Day, which was created in the year 2000 by the Union for International Cancer Control. The goal of the event is to raise worldwide awareness of cancer, improve education about cancer and catalyze personal and collective action to ensure access to cancer treatment for all people and to prevent cancer deaths. The theme for this year is "I Am and I Will" and the goal is to remind people of "the enduring power of cooperation and collective action". Click here to learn more about this year's campaign.

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