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For Psychiatric Patients, Cancer Is Often Spotted Too Late
Date:12/19/2012

By Barbara Bronson Gray
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 19 (HealthDay News) -- People with psychiatric disorders have a 30 percent higher death rate from cancer, even though they are no more likely to develop the disease than others. And the underlying reason may be relatively simple: Their cancer is frequently discovered late, often after it has spread, a new Australian study finds.

It's long been known that people with psychiatric conditions -- ranging from alcohol and drug disorders to depression and schizophrenia -- are less apt to seek regular medical attention and pursue a healthy lifestyle.

As a result, the overall mortality rate in psychiatric patients is much greater than in the general population. Cancer survival typically depends on both early diagnosis and access to effective therapies, the study authors noted.

But researchers haven't been able to pin down the reason why these patients have no greater chance of developing cancer, but are still more likely to die from it. They've wondered: Are psychiatric patients treated differently? Are their concerns taken less seriously? Is it harder for them to get care once they're diagnosed with cancer?

The new research was published online Dec. 17 in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The problem is most significant in people with the more serious forms of mental illness, such as schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder, said lead study author Dr. Stephen Kisely, a professor at the University of Queensland, in Australia. "People with severe mental illness may be more disorganized, have less resources [and be] more subject to stigma," he explained.

The challenge for the researchers was to tease out the various lifestyle issues associated with mental illness from the potential physical and health system factors that could be causing the higher fatality rate among psychiatric patients.

A U.S. expert noted the connection
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