The study was published in the April 5 New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, noted that because the study took place in Sweden, it's not certain how the results apply to the United States. Nevertheless, he said, "this study is saying we have to be aware that this is a very real problem."
"We believe that the words 'you have cancer' certainly can be associated with distress, but we also like to believe with support and care and love that people will find a way to confront their illness and move through that process under the best possible circumstances," Lichtenfeld added.
"But we can't always be optimistic that that's going to happen, and we have to be sensitive to the warning signals that somebody who has a history of depression or may be currently depressed could become more so -- we can't pass that off: 'Well, they've been told they have cancer, what do you expect?'" he said.
"Patients who have a history of depression need to be counseled and observed more carefully -- by their health professionals, by their family, by their friends, by their colleagues," Lichtenfeld said.
Nearly 550,000 cardiovascular deaths occurred during the study, with a prevalence of 23.1 in people with cancer diagnoses compared with 7.53 among cancer-free people. Heart attacks were the biggest cause, followed by strokes.
Both experts said that severe emotional stress could provoke physical changes.
"Psychological stress induces an array of physiological reactions, including the release of stress hormones such as catecholamines and corticosteroids that have impact on the cardiovascular system," Fall said.
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