People who live through a bout with cancer are more likely than others to use drugs for anxiety and depression, a study suggests.
About 19 percent of adult cancer survivors take drugs for depression, anxiety or both, compared with roughly 10 percent of other adults, the study found.
“Survivors can have uncertainty about the future, worries about recurrence, altered self-image, concerns about relationships, financial hardships, unwanted physical changes or new physical impairments,” said the study’s lead author, Nikki Hawkins.
“The cumulative effect of these worries and changes can take a toll on survivors’ long-term emotional well-being — a likely reason why we see a higher rate of medication use in this group,” Hawkins added by email.
The study examined survey data collected from 3,184 people with a history of tumors and 44,997 adults with no such history.
Almost 14 percent of cancer survivors took antidepressants, compared with 8 percent of the other adults in the study, the researchers report in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The difference was more pronounced for anti-anxiety medications, which were used by 17 percent of cancer survivors and 9 percent of other adults. These findings suggest that 2.5 million cancer survivors take these psychiatric medications, the researchers estimate.
The findings point to the need for cancer survivors to pay as much attention to mental health as physical health, said Hawkins, a behavioral scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Depression and other types of distress can weaken the body’s immune system, lead to poorer health habits and has been linked with lower odds of survival after cancer,” she said.
When cancer survivors take medications for depression and anxiety, they should be aware that some of those drugs can cause interactions, said Alan Valentine, chairman of psychiatry at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Certain antidepressants, for example, are thought to make the breast cancer drug tamoxifen less effective, previous research has found. And some psychotropic medicines can increase the odds that certain cancer drugs cause heart damage.