What Causes Anxiety in Cancer Patients?

Reviewed on 1/20/2021

Reasons for Cancer Anxiety

Severe pain and disability, grief and uncertainty, in addition to financial hardship, all collude to cause anxiety in many cancer patients. Clinical levels of anxiety can affect physical cancer treatments, so seek support from your loved ones, doctors and other professionals.
Severe pain and disability, grief and uncertainty, in addition to financial hardship, all collude to cause anxiety in many cancer patients. Clinical levels of anxiety can affect physical cancer treatments, so seek support from your loved ones, doctors and other professionals.

Everyone reacts and copes differently to a cancer diagnosis and anxiety is a common reaction. Cancer not only affects a person’s physical health; it can affect a person’s emotions causing anxiety and stress. A number of studies have found cancer patients are likely to suffer from anxiety, stress, depression, and other emotional challenges. 

Causes of anxiety in cancer patients include: 

  • Uncertainty about the future
  • Fear about side effects treatments and whether they will work
  • Fear of the unknown 
  • Stress about how the cancer impacts the ability to work, care for family, travel or function on a daily basis
  • Severe pain
  • Disability
  • Lack of caregivers
  • Cancer that does not respond to treatment
  • Physical problems caused by the cancer 
  • Medications that have side effects that cause anxiety

What are Symptoms of Anxiety in Cancer Patients?

Symptoms of anxiety in cancer patients include:

  • Restlessness
  • Feeling of being wound up or on edge
  • Irritability
  • Inability to relax
  • Difficulty controlling the worry
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Changes in appetite
  • Stomach or bowel problems
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches/tension
  • Difficulty sleeping (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, restless sleep, or unsatisfying sleep)
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Depression

What is the Treatment for Anxiety in Cancer Patients?

There are a number of treatments available for cancer patients who experience anxiety. It is important to tell your doctor what you are feeling so they can come up with a treatment plan. 

Treatments for anxiety in cancer patients include: 

  • Medications 
  • Therapy
    • Individual (one-to-one) counseling
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to learn different ways of thinking about and reacting to anxiety 
    • Laughter therapy
    • Animal-assisted therapy
    • Couple and family counseling
    • Crisis counseling
    • Group therapy
    • Support groups
    • Spiritual support 
    • Regular physical activity 
    • Eating a healthy diet
    • Maintaining a support network
  • Stress reduction techniques
    • Breathing exercises 
    • Relaxation techniques 
    • Guided imagery
    • Hypnosis
    • Meditation
    • Biofeedback

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Reviewed on 1/20/2021
References
https://www.cancercenter.com/integrative-care/anxiety-stress

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaoncology/fullarticle/2613413

https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/feelings/anxiety-distress-pdq