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Cancer Diagnosis Can Take Toll on Mental Health

Patients with breast cancer, head and neck cancer, and malignant melanoma particularly at risk

TUESDAY, Oct. 7, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- One out of three people diagnosed with cancer also wind up struggling with a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression, according to a German study published online Oct. 6 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Anja Mehnert, Ph.D., a professor of psychosocial oncology at the University of Leipzig in Germany, and colleagues held face-to-face interviews with 2,141 Germans with cancer. The patients were between 18 and 75 years old. Standardized questions were used to determine if the cancer patients had mental health problems classified under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

The researchers found that about 40 percent of patients with breast cancer (41.6 percent), head and neck cancer (40.8 percent), and malignant melanoma (39.0 percent) also had at least one mental disorder. The lowest rates of mental disorder, around 20 percent, occurred among patients with pancreatic (20.3 percent), prostate (21.6 percent), or stomach/esophageal cancers (21.2 percent). The most common mental disorders affecting cancer patients were anxiety disorders and adjustment disorders.

"[Our] findings reinforce that, as doctors, we need to be very aware of signs and symptoms of mental and emotional distress," Mehnert told HealthDay. "We must encourage patients to seek evaluation, support, and treatment if necessary, as there are long-term risks often associated with more severe, untreated mental health disorders."

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