Acknowledging Mental Health Risk in Cancer Patients for Mental Health Awareness Month

Scope of the Issue

The complexity of a cancer diagnosis constitutes an array of physical, emotional, and mental burdens. Beyond the anticipated changes to one’s physical wellbeing, cancer poses tremendous psychological distress to the brain and threatens a patient’s mental wellbeing. Although conversations on mental health awareness are advancing, there remains a critical need to recognize the risk factor that a cancer diagnosis is for mental health disorders. The strain of countless doctor visits, radiation, and chemotherapy that cancer patients endure put them at a heightened risk for developing a mental health disorder. The severity of a mental health disorder is not something to be neglected, as studies have found a twofold risk of dying by suicide in cancer patients. (1) The treatment administered throughout a cancer patient’s journey poses debilitating risks to their mental health. In a study observing 465,000 cancer patients across 26 cancer types, treatments involving surgery, radiation and chemotherapy were found to be the biggest risk factor for a mental health disorder. (2) This staggering statistic prompts the drastic need to develop comprehensive care and assistance for cancer patients to manage their mental health.

Mental Health During Covid-19

Living through a pandemic can take a toll on anyone’s mental health, none the less someone battling a chronic disease alongside of it. The isolation, fear, and anxiety that a pandemic evokes only worsens the state of one’s mental health, especially when days are spent in the hospital.  Introducing mental health consultation early following a cancer diagnosis will mitigate the damaging impact of navigating life during a pandemic while battling a chronic disease.

Importance of Screening

Preventative measures reign vital in both disease management as well as mental health treatment. Providing cancer patients with the proper mental health resources before the onset of a disorder lessens the burden of disease in the cancer population. Developing dynamic technology catered to the individual promotes the resource referral needed to catch mental health disorders before progression. Mental health screening advancements are necessary to enhance mental health awareness and solutions in the cancer society.

1.Heinrich, M., Hofmann, L., Baurecht, H. et al. Suicide risk and mortality among patients with cancer. Nat Med (2022). 

2.Chang, W.H., Lai, A.G. Cumulative burden of psychiatric disorders and self-harm across 26 adult cancers. Nat Med (2022). 

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