Psychological distress may aggravate cancer risk, says study

Psychological distress may aggravate cancer risk, says study

A new study carried out by a joint team of researchers from University College London (UCL), Edinburgh University, and University of Sydney helps examine the relationship between psychological distress and causes of cancer and its advancement.

The researchers utilized individual patient data from 16 population-based studies initiated between 1994 and 2008. The study involved 163,363 men and women aged 16 years or older. The patient data was taken from nationally representative samples drawn from the health survey for England (13 studies) and the Scottish health survey (three studies). The study was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

A meta-analysis of the data taken from these 16 population-based studies showed a link between mental distress and death from cancer. According to the study, in addition to other diseases, psychological distress might have had some predictive capacity for selected cancer presentations.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), most people feel anxious or depressed at times. While events such as losing a loved one, going through a divorce, or other similar instance can lead a person to feel lonely, anxious, scared, or nervous, some people experience such feelings on a daily basis for no apparent reason. Such people may suffer from anxiety, depression, or both.

Distress and risk of cancer mortality

According to the study, post adjustment of age, sex, weight, status, and education, higher levels of distress were associated with a 32 percent greater risk of total cancer mortality. The high rate of mortality was recorded across all types of cancer.

As per lead author Dr. David Batty, post statistical control of these factors, the study results showed that the death rate in the most distressed group was consistently higher for all types of cancer, as compared to people in the least distressed group. Once the researchers had made adjustments for the effect of smoking, lung cancer and cancers related to smoking were not linked to mental distress.

The researchers found that emotional distress may hit the immune function and damage the DNA. Emotional distress may stop people from attending cancer screening or even prevent them from seeking treatment when they fall ill. Emotional distress could also lead people to stop looking after themselves that would also contribute to a higher danger of death from lifestyle-related cancers such as bowel, gullet, and pancreatic cancers.

Prostate cancer, and hormone-related cancer, were the other cancers with higher death rates among those suffering from emotional distress. It may be caused by depression symptoms that can lead to a spike in the stress hormone, restrain DNA repair, and harm the immune system response.

The aim of the study was to examine the role of psychological distress (anxiety and depression) as a potential predictor of the site-specific cancer death rate. While the study findings could be important in advancing understanding of the role of psychological distress in cancer causes and its advancement, as per the researchers, the study did not definitely prove that distress increased chances of cancer deaths.

Road to recovery

While the study cannot prove that emotional distress increased chances of cancer deaths, it does raise an important point that emotional and physical health are connected at a fundamental level and that poor mental health can affect one physically and vice versa.

Depression is a complex mental illness that can be treated effectively. If you know someone battling with depression, contact the Depression Treatment Helpline to get assistance in finding the best treatment centers for depression in the U.S. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-619-7729 or chat online with our representatives to know about the top rehab centers for depression near you.