People who experience anxiety and depression after a diagnosis of lung cancer are likely to die sooner, according to new findings. 

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of British Columbia and BC Cancer Agency, looked at the psychological state of 684 stage three non-small lung cancer patients whilst undergoing treatment.

Patients were given questionnaires about their anxiety and depression symptoms after being given their diagnosis.

Once the findings were controlled for age, gender, ethnicity, tumour type and treatment, researchers found that those patients who reported were more anxious and depressed died sooner than those with less severe symptoms.

“The question of whether anxiety and depression affect survival in cancer patients has been of interest to scientists for decades, but long-term research has been limited,” said Andrea Vodermaier, lead author of the study. “Our study confirms that there is indeed a link for lung cancer patients, and that it’s important for healthcare providers to treat not only their tumour but also focus on the full emotional experience of the patient.”

Although there is a link between both psychological health and cancer survival, Dr Robert Olsen, head of radiation oncology at the BC Cancer Agency, insisted there could be other factors at play influencing their findings: “It is likely that other unmeasured factors that correlate with high anxiety and depression, such as less social support, could play a role,” said Olson.

One of the biggest influential factors in lung cancer survival is smoking. For those patients who were smokers prior to diagnosis, it is likely that anxiety and depression would enhance their habit, in turn impacting their chances of survival. Data on smoking habits was unavailable for this study.

However, the findings do add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that psychological health impacts cancer survival. In a similar study from last year, data from 163,363 cancer patients adjusted for age, gender, education, socioeconomic status, body mass index (BMI), smoking and alcohol intake, suggested a link between anxiety and depression and cancer survival in leukaemia, colorectal, prostate, pancreatic and oesophageal cancers.

“The relationship that we found is significant, and certainly worth further exploration into whether interventions to improve anxiety and depression in lung cancer patients can improve survival rates,” said Olsen.

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