Anxiety 'a greater risk than depression' for long-term cancer survivors

In collaboration with the Press Association

More needs to be done to combat feelings of anxiety among cancer survivors, a UK study suggests.

While there has been considerable emphasis placed on the issue of depression among cancer patients and their carers, anxiety is typically a longer-lasting and more unpredictable problem, according to the research published in The Lancet Oncology.

The study reveals that long-term cancer survivors are around a quarter more likely than their healthy counterparts to experience anxiety.

But it finds that they are not at a substantially increased risk of developing depression.

The study also finds that patients' partners face similar levels of depression and even higher rates of anxiety than the cancers survivors themselves.

Lead author Alex Mitchell, from Leicester General Hospital, said: "Depression is an important problem after cancer but it tends to improve within two years of a diagnosis unless there is a further complication. Anxiety is less predictable and is a cause for concern even 10 years after a diagnosis."

He said that despite this, screening for distress and depression has tended to be more of a focus than detection of anxiety.

Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said the emotional impact of being treated for a life-threatening disease like cancer can be significant.

"Following treatment for cancer, patients and their families have to deal with varying levels of uncertainty. It's important that information and support is available to patients for as long as they want it following treatment", he said

"People often call our helpline after treatment has ended, sometimes many years later," he added.

While depression levels were similar between cancer survivors and others at least two years after diagnosis, the study shows survivors are 27 per cent more likely to experience anxiety - and this figure rises to 50 per cent 10 years or more after diagnosis.

The research was based on a systematic review and meta-analysis looking at 43 comparisons in 27 publications. In total it looked at around half a million participants reporting the prevalence of depression or anxiety in adults with cancer at least two years after diagnosis.

Copyright Press Association 2013