Mind and Body: How Cancer Impacts Mental Health

14 February 2021 / By Social Media

Cancer is a disease in which an organism’s cells mutate and reproduce uncontrollably, leading to destruction of body tissue. Statistics suggest that 1 in 9 Indians will develop cancer over their lifetime, making it a major public health concern (Mathur et. al, 2020).

While cancer is a physical illness, it has profound implications on mental health. In conventional cancer treatment, doctors largely tend to address the client’s physical health. However, it is well documented that physical health has a direct impact on an individual’s mental health and overall quality of life.

Cancer is a long term illness with far-reaching impacts, and individuals with chronic illnesses are more likely to suffer from poor mental health. A 2010 survey found that compared to 5.9% of adults without cancer, 10.1% of adult cancer survivors report poor mental health (Weaver et. al, 2012).
Data from the United States suggests that cancer survivors are twice as likely as the general population to have a disability linked to poor mental health, and this likelihood increases sixfold if an individual has a co-morbid chronic illness.

Some of the risk factors among cancer patients and survivors for poor mental health include younger age, low educational attainment, lack of social support, and co-morbid health concerns. In particular, young individuals diagnosed with cancer are at risk for psychological concerns because a cancer diagnosis before the age of fifty is more unexpected and thus more distressing. Further, low socioeconomic status often restricts an individual’s access to quality care and therefore acts as a stressor.

Various physical, social, economic, and occupational stressors are also associated with cancer, that may result in various symptoms of anxiety and depression. In particular, the first three years after receiving cancer treatment are crucial in monitoring the mental health of individuals. This period may also involve readjustment to various life roles, as well as perceived shifts in social support, and diminished emotional support from loved ones. Further, cancer recurrence is also linked to various psychological challenges (Naughton & Waver, 2014).

Social support, use of coping strategies as well as symptom management are factors that lead to better psychological adjustment among cancer patients. Further, mental health concerns tend to dissipate over time when treatment is over. Yet young survivors may have more anxiety about potential symptom burden in the future.

It is evident that cancer has considerable implications for mental health. Screening for mental health morbidity is crucial for cancer patients and survivors, so that long term outcomes are more positive.


Mathur, P., Sathishkumar, K., Chaturvedi, M., Das, P., Sudarshan, K. L., Santhappan, S., ... &  ICMR-NCDIR-NCRP Investigator Group. (2020). Cancer statistics, 2020: report from national
cancer registry programme, India. JCO Global Oncology, 6, 1063-1075.

Naughton, M. J., & Weaver, K. E. (2014). Physical and mental health among cancer survivors:
considerations for long-term care and quality of life. North Carolina medical journal, 75(4),
283–286. https://doi.org/10.18043/ncm.75.4.283

Weaver KE, Forsythe LP, Reeve BB, et al. Mental and physical health–related quality of life among
US cancer survivors: population estimates from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey.
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2012;21(11):2108–2117.

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