Anxiety is a mental health disorder in which the patient is mostly worried and may feel fear. It can affect the daily routine of the individual including their mental and emotional health. A cancer diagnosis affects patients, families, and caregivers to the patients. It might lead to depression, anxiety, and fear in them. This anxiety creates an opposing effect on cancer treatment and also causes many side effects. A study has concluded that more than 16,000 men and women who were over the age of 40 and are suffering from anxiety are 2 times more likely to die from cancer as compared to those who are not suffering from anxiety.
Side effects of anxiety in cancer
- Increase of pain in affected areas: Cancer treatment often causes pain, especially in the affected area. However, anxiety in cancer patients can increase this pain even more. Research shows an acute increase in pain during chemotherapy in patients who have anxiety and depression issues.
- Sleep deprivation: Anxiety can cause insomnia and sleep deprivation in cancer patients which can adversely affect their treatment and its effectiveness. Lack of sleep can increase stress levels in the body, which is a known cause of cancer.
- Nausea and vomiting: Anxiety causes the release of neurotransmitters, which when entering the digestive tract can cause stomach symptoms like nausea and vomiting. In cancer patients, the effects are more intense due to the regular cancer-caused nausea.
- Development of gastrointestinal disorders: Anxiety can cause a number of gastrointestinal disorders that range from upset stomach and stomach pains to irritable bowel syndrome. Cancer patients are especially susceptible to such issues because of the weakening of their bodies during treatment.
- Some cancer patients develop anxiety about scans, such as X-ray, CT scan, MRI. It is due to the repetitive calls for various scans. This condition is also known as scanxiety. This can hinder taking necessary scans for cancer treatment.
- Reduction in body’s immunity: Anxiety can affect one’s immune system as it affects the sleep cycle and overall functioning of the body. Cancer patients in their weakened state post-treatment will be prone to immunity depletion due to anxiety.
- Depression: Acute and chronic anxiety result in depression, more often than not. Cancer patients with depression will have a hard time staying motivated during their treatment. Moreover, it can also manifest physical side-effects like lack of immunity.
- Anxiety increases cancer risk through the severity of symptoms. It can affect both mental and physical health of a survivor recuperating from the treatment side effects.
Symptoms of anxiety in cancer
The patient may feel muscular weakness and numbness of limbs. This condition occurs due to the low capacity to overcome emotional exhaustion, which arises with a high level of stress and demotivation. It may also be the result of other common anxiety symptoms or side effects like insomnia and muscle tension. Fatigue may also follow an anxiety attack.
Anxiety causes abrupt release of several stress hormones, which is our body’s natural reaction to stress. The sudden hormonal changes can affect appetite. For instance, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), a stress hormone, cause appetite suppression. Yet another stress hormone, cortisol, causes sped up digestion process, which can increase the appetite. People usually avoid eating during an anxious state.
Peripheral neuropathy is regarding nerve damage, and anxiety does not cause damage to the nerves. However, it does cause symptoms that mimic or are similar to that of peripheral neuropathy like tingling, numbness, movement issues, or burning.
Anxiety creates a disturbance in your normal sleep pattern. It also creates some new sleep problems or worsens pre existing disorders. Waking up in the middle of the night are common in patients with anxiety disorder. Healthy sleep is very important for a cancer patient as it directly affects the effectiveness of cancer treatment.
The relationship with anxiety and cancer pain are bidirectional. For anxiety causes increased pain in cancer patients during their treatment, and as patients experience pain during their treatment, their anxiety levels increase. The patient becomes more anxious about the spread of cancer or intensive treatment. Pain also acts as a symptom of anxiety disorder.
Anxiety might lead to nausea and vomiting before every treatment. When we get overtly anxious, our body triggers its fight-or-flight response. This response affects several systems in our body, including the digestive system. Anxiety’s affect on the digestive system results in nausea, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal disorders.
Coping up with anxiety during cancer
There are several methods to cope with anxiety. Below are a few of them:
- Relaxation techniques like yoga, deep breathing, and guided imagery can help you feel positive and relaxed.
- Approach health professionals like psychologists and counselors to help you to improve your coping skills and to brush aside the negative thoughts in your mind. Cognitive-behavioral therapy might be required.
- If the symptoms of anxiety are severe, the patient might opt for medication. The medication should be decided as per the needs of the patient and the potential side-effects. The ongoing treatment should also be kept in mind before prescribing the medication.
The patient should consult a doctor or a professional to decide on the best course of action. You should not reduce the communication with your loved ones or your medical team at all.
- Mind-body approaches including these:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
- Music therapy
- Relaxation training
- Supportive/expressive therapy stress management
- Support groups
- Massage from a trained massage therapist
- Therapies based on a philosophy of bioenergy fields, such as these:
- Healing Touch
- Therapeutic Touch®
- Credit: BCCT: Anxiety
- Cancer.net: Anxiety
- SIO clinical practice guidelines:
- Deng GE, Frenkel M et al. Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for integrative oncology: complementary therapies and botanicals. Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology. 2009 Summer;7(3):85-120.
- Deng GE, Rausch SM et al. Complementary therapies and integrative medicine in lung cancer: diagnosis and management of lung cancer, 3rd ed: American College of Chest Physicians evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Chest. 2013 May;143(5 Suppl):e420S-e436S.
- Greenlee H, DuPont-Reyes MJ et al. Clinical practice guidelines on the evidence-based use of integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2017 May 6;67(3):194-232.
- Psychedelic Support
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