Big Surprise, Breast Cancer Treatment Causes Depression and Anxiety

The list of studies showing the negative impact on the mental health of those diagnosed with breast cancer is pretty much endless. Here are a few:

  • 77% of breast cancer patients experienced anxiety associated with the fear of death within 2 years of treatment. [1]
  • An increased mortality rate among breast cancer survivors in women was associated with depression related to anxiety over shortened survival time, recurrence, and metastasis. [2]
  • One in 10 breast cancer survivors had depression based on medical records (that’s all???) meaning breast cancer survivors face nearly twice the risk of depression compared to women who have not been diagnosed. [3]

Why don’t we just “go back to normal” after cancer treatment?

The side effects from cancer treatment are so painful physically that they eventually cause mental pain. The pain of treatment leaves women feeling helpless with little hope for the future. When will things get better? Will the pain ever stop? Breast cancer survivors often get to a point in which they can’t help but wonder if the treatment is worse than the disease itself.

Sure, the treatment is keeping the cancer away. But it’s also keeping away our sanity.

How can you help a friend or family member who’s survived cancer but still miserable?

Approach every interaction with them with compassion, understanding, and patience.
Understand that treatment may leave them feeling too tired to even keep in touch at some points.
Ask if they need you for anything from emotional support to dinner for the week.

If you want to hear more advice for how to help, listen to our episode titled “ Day 549: If This Is What Kills Me, Have I Lived A Good Life?”

Sources:
[1] Ashbury FD, Findlay H, Reynolds B, McKerracher K. A canadian survey of cancer patients’ experiences: Are their needs being met? J Pain Symptom Manage. 1998;16:298–306.
[2] Jiang MJ, Jin AZ, Feng L, et al. Late life depression predicts mortality among long-term cancer survivors. Ann Acad Med Singapore 2014;43:S42–3.
[3] Journal of the National Cancer Institute