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JAMA Oncology Patient Page
July 2017

Cancer-Related Anxiety

JAMA Oncol. 2017;3(7):1007. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2017.0254

When diagnosed with cancer, patients may experience emotions that induce anxiety, including sadness, fear, anger, dread, and confusion.

Anxiety After Cancer Diagnosis

Experiencing anxiety after diagnosis is not unusual and often begins as a temporary worry or fear after treatment or a visit to the doctor. In severe cases, a person’s capacity to lead a normal life may be compromised and the ability to function severely impacted. In addition, many patients experience “scanxiety,” which can occur days or weeks before and after follow-up scans (x-ray, CT scan, or MRI).

Psychological Symptoms of Anxiety (Emotional and Mental Distress)

Anxiety is associated with restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and a feeling of being wound up or on edge. It also often involves irritability, an inability to relax, and difficulty controlling the worry.

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Physically, anxiety is associated with sleep problems (ie, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, restless sleep, or unsatisfying sleep), fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, and loss of appetite.

Therapeutic Treatment for Coping With Anxiety

  • Medication: Taking medication may be an appropriate treatment when anxiety is preventing an individual from completing everyday tasks. While medication does not cure anxiety disorders, it can provide some relief from symptoms. Medications are most effective in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps an individual learn coping mechanisms when anxiety occurs.

  • CBT: Patients undergoing CBT learn different ways of thinking by challenging cycles of behavioral reactions to anxiety-inducing situations. By helping individuals identify and manage emotions, effects of CBT have been shown to be maintained after treatment.

  • Support Groups: Support groups provide a safe place to share feelings with other individuals going through similar hardships. Creating open dialogues with others can be helpful when processing cancer-related anxiety.

Nontherapeutic Tools

Physical activity, a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy support network, and mindful exercises can all be helpful when handling anxiety. Practicing these activities can elevate mood and greatly reduce stress.

Keeping an open dialogue with your physician or other clinician is important when coping with anxiety. Feelings of anxiety during doctor visits, scans, and everyday life are normal, and actively pursuing coping techniques can help improve the anxiety experienced during cancer treatment.

Box Section Ref ID
Section Editor: Howard (Jack) West, MD.
The JAMA Oncology Patient Page is a public service of JAMA Oncology. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA Oncology suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call (312) 464-0776.
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Article Information

Published Online: March 30, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2017.0254

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

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