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Cancer Survivors Face Tough Road Long After Treatment Ends
Date:7/30/2009

Study shows they're at increased risk of psychological distress years later

THURSDAY, July 30 (HealthDay News) -- Cancer survivors are more likely than their healthy peers to suffer serious psychological distress such as anxiety and depression, even a decade after treatment ends, new research shows.

Those who were relatively young at the time of diagnosis, unmarried, had less than a high school education, were uninsured, had other illnesses or had difficulty doing the activities of daily living were at the highest risk of psychological problems.

The study appears in the July 27 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The United States is home to 12 million cancer survivors, or 4 percent of the population, numbers that are expected to rise as cancer screening improves and Baby Boomers age, according to the researchers, from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

To gauge the long-term psychological impact of the disease, they analyzed mental health and medical data on 4,636 adults who'd survived cancer and 122,220 who had never had cancer. The data was collected between 2002 and 2006 by the National Health Interview Survey, which is conducted yearly by the U.S. Census Bureau.

During a follow-up period of at least five years and an average of 12 years, about 5.6 percent of cancer survivors were found to have experienced severe psychological distress within the previous month, compared with 3 percent of those without cancer.

Dr. James Zabora, a former associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who has researched cancer and mental health issues, said the study was well done but that the measure of mental health has not been scientifically validated for use in cancer survivors.

In fact, he said, he suspected the incidence of mental health issues among cancer survivors may be higher.

"It's a well-desig
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