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Improving Cancer Survivors’ Mental Health

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Cancer survivors may experience mental health concerns that affect their emotions, behavior, memory, and ability to concentrate. For example, cancer survivors may feel emotional distress like depression, fear, and anxiety after being diagnosed with cancer. Others may have trouble remembering things or paying attention as a result of side effects from their cancer treatment. Some survivors have only mild symptoms for a short time, while others have more severe symptoms that interfere with their normal daily activities, work, and personal relationships.

Recent research shows that 10% of cancer survivors feel they have poor mental health, compared with only 6% of adults without a history of cancer. Cancer survivors who have other chronic illnesses are more likely to have mental health problems and poorer quality of life. Age, education level, income, marital status, and other factors can affect a cancer survivor’s risk for mental health problems and poor quality of life.

If left unaddressed, mental health problems can make it difficult for cancer survivors to make healthy choices such as physical activity and exercise, and can even affect survival. Unfortunately, fewer than one-third of survivors who have mental health concerns talk to their doctor about them, and many survivors do not use services like professional counseling or support groups.

What Can You Do?

  • Take the first step and seek help for your emotional and psychological symptoms. Psychologists, social workers, and patient navigators can help you find appropriate and affordable mental health and social support services in both hospital and community settings.
  • Talk to your health care provider about your mental health before, during, and after treatment ends.
  • Ask your health care provider about mental health screening to check for and track changes in anxiety, depression, and other concerns.
  • If possible, try to lead a physically active life. Physical activity has been linked to lower rates of depression among cancer survivors.