State College, Pennsylvania - A cancer diagnosis is accompanied by a host of emotions and it’s clear to doctors and researchers that the mental health of a cancer patient goes through periods of highs and lows after the words “you have cancer” are uttered. Depression is a major issue for many patients. Now, a Penn State University researcher has examined how cancer affects symptoms of depression and cognitive function following diagnosis as well as 24 months later.
According to an article posted on goodtherapy.org, a site that advocates for ethical therapy, the study by Frank J. Infurna closely examined 2,848 individuals over the age of 50 who had received a diagnosis of cancer while participating in a larger study centered on retirement and health. Each participant was assessed for levels of depression – once before their diagnosis, once during the “reaction” period (from 0-23 months after their diagnosis), and 24 months after diagnosis – the “adaption” period.
From the statistics garnered from this study, Infurna concluded that symptoms of depression rose dramatically during the initial reaction period and continued to rise during the adaption period, but only moderately. Although Infurna reported different results for each patient examined, he noted that a clear pattern emerged; namely “participants with better memory and better cancer prognoses had smaller increases in depressive symptoms than those with poorer cognitive skills and less favorable cancer outcomes.”
In comparing the 2,848 patients with those who were relatively healthy and not suffering from cancer, Infurna strived to confirm his findings and determined that “when people experience a major life event such as cancer diagnosis, they go through phases of psychological adjustment.” This study further proved that factors like mental acuity and physical health outlook affected adjustment. Infurna believes that future work should look at how other things can influence the well-being of a cancer patient, namely self-esteem and family support.
Patients with rare and challenging cancers like mesothelioma experience a wide range of emotions after diagnosis, including denial, guilt, anxiety, depression, and more. Many oncologists recommend counseling as part of any cancer treatment regimen and many patients find great solace in sharing their feelings with someone else, particular an individual not related to them or not responsible for their care.