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Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

Anxiety and Cancer Patients

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Treatment

It may be difficult to distinguish between normal fears associated with cancer and abnormally severe fears that can be classified as an anxiety disorder. Treatment depends on how the anxiety is affecting daily life for the patient. Anxiety that is caused by pain or another medical condition, a specific type of tumor, or as a side effect of medication (such as steroids), is usually controlled by treating the underlying cause. It is often helpful to have a psychiatrist collaborate with your oncologist to diagnose an anxiety disorder if it is present, or help to determine whether chemotherapy or other medicines may be causing anxiety symptoms, and coming up with ways to manage the side effects.

Treatment for anxiety begins by giving the patient adequate information and support. Developing coping strategies such as the patient viewing his or her cancer from the perspective of a problem to be solved, obtaining enough information in order to fully understand his or her disease and treatment options, and utilizing available resources and support systems, can help to relieve anxiety. Patients may benefit from other treatment options for anxiety, including: psychotherapy, group therapy, family therapy, participating in self-help groups, hypnosis, and relaxation techniques such as guided imagery (a form of focused concentration on mental images to assist in stress management), or biofeedback. Medications may be used alone or in combination with these techniques. Patients should not avoid anxiety-relieving medications for fear of becoming addicted. Their doctors will give them sufficient medication to alleviate the symptoms and decrease the amount of the drug as the symptoms diminish.

Post-Treatment Considerations

After cancer therapy has been completed, a cancer survivor may be faced with new anxieties. Survivors may experience anxiety when they return to work and are asked about their cancer experience, or when confronted with insurance-related problems. A survivor may fear subsequent follow-up examinations and diagnostic tests, or they may fear a recurrence of cancer. Survivors may experience anxiety because of changes in body image, sexual dysfunction, reproductive issues, or post-traumatic stress. Survivorship programs, support groups, counseling, and other resources are available to help people readjust to life after cancer.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on October 30, 2014
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