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Psychiatric History Prior to Cancer Diagnosis: Red Flag

A new study shows that patients utilizing psychiatric services prior to cancer diagnosis are at a higher risk of dying from cancer compared with patients with no psychiatric history prior to cancer diagnosis.

"We think this means mental health may play a larger role in cancer outcomes than previously thought. Major depression and stress may affect our body's immune surveillance systems, effectively hampering the ability to detect and fight cancer. A recent psychiatric history should be a red flag to all doctors and nurses treating cancer patients. It's essential we keep a close eye on these patients to make sure they're receiving the best possible care and are followed up if and when cancer appointments are missed," urged lead author of the study, Zachary Klaassen, MD, Assistant Professor and Urologic Oncologist at the Georgia Cancer Center.

In this study, published in British Journal of Cancer, the investigators analyzed cancer patients from Ontario, Canada and scored them based on psychiatric services used: 0: none, 1: outpatient, 2: emergency department, 3: hospital admission. Among 676,125 patients, 53.2% received a score of 0, 45.0% received a score of 1, 1.2% received a score of 2, and 0.6% received a score of 3. Higher psychiatric scores were associated with worse cancer-specific mortality.

Richard Roope, MD, Cancer Research UK's Senior Clinical Advisor, provided his outside perspective on the study: "More research needs to be done to work out why this is the case. It's important that people seeing a doctor for mental health issues are reminded of their cancer screening invitations and that any potential cancer symptoms are addressed in a timely way."

For More Information

Klaassen Z, Wallis CJD, Goldberg H, et al (2019). The impact of psychiatric utilization prior to cancer diagnosis on survival of solid organ malignancies. Br J Cancer. [Epub ahead of print] DOI:10.1038/s41416-019-0390-0

Image courtesy of Jerad M. Gardner, MD

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