Many Who Battle Cancer Stay Strong Mentally

TUESDAY, Sept. 4, 2018 — Most older adults who are current or former cancer patients have good mental health, a new study finds.

The study included 438 Canadian adults with cancer and 1,174 cancer survivors who took part in a 2012 survey on mental health. All were aged 50 and older.

Two-thirds of the current cancer patients and more than three-quarters of former cancer patients had good mental health, according to the study results.

“Cancer patients were doing much better than we had expected,” said lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, director of the University of Toronto’s Institute for Life Course and Aging.

“Two-thirds met our very stringent criteria for ‘complete mental health,’ which meant that they were happy and/or satisfied with their life on a daily or almost daily basis, and they also reported very high levels of social and psychological well-being,” Fuller-Thomson noted in a university news release.

“Only those who were also free of mental illness, including depression and anxiety disorders, and without any substance dependence or suicidal thoughts in the past year were classified as being in complete mental health,” she said.

Fuller-Thomson added that “the news for cancer survivors was even better, with three-quarters living in complete mental health, which is a prevalence comparable to that of individuals with no cancer history.”

Study co-author Keri West, a doctoral student in the faculty of social work, said, “Among those with former or current cancer, the odds of complete mental health were higher for women, white, married and older respondents, as well as those with higher income and those who did not have disabling pain nor functional limitations.

“We found that earlier difficulties cast a long shadow: those who had been physically abused during their childhood and those who had ever had depression or anxiety disorders were less likely to be in complete mental health,” West added.

This type of research may help identify ways to help cancer patients maintain good mental health during their illness and recovery, West said.

The study was published recently in the journal Aging & Mental Health.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute offers resources on coping with cancer.

Posted: September 2018

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