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Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

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Anxiety Disorders

    Anxiety disorders are very strong fears that may be caused by physical or psychological stress.

    Studies show that almost half of all patients with cancer say they feel some anxiety and about one-fourth of all patients with cancer say they feel a great deal of anxiety. Patients living with cancer find that they feel more or less anxiety at different times. A patient may become more anxious as cancer spreads or treatment becomes more intense.

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    For some patients feelings of anxiety may become overwhelming and affect cancer treatment. This is especially true for patients who had periods of intense anxiety before their cancer diagnosis. Most patients who did not have an anxiety condition before their cancer diagnosis will not have an anxiety disorder related to the cancer.

    Patients are more likely to have anxiety disorders during cancer treatment if they have any of the following:

    • A history of an anxiety disorder.
    • A history of physical or emotional trauma.
    • Anxiety at the time of diagnosis.
    • Few family members or friends to give them emotional support.
    • Pain that is not controlled well.
    • Cancer that is not getting better with treatment.
    • Trouble taking care of their personal needs such as bathing or eating.

    Anxiety disorders may be hard to diagnose.

    It may be hard to tell the difference between normal fears related to cancer and abnormally severe fears that can be described as an anxiety disorder. The diagnosis is based on how symptoms of anxiety affect the patient's quality of life, what kinds of symptoms began since the cancer diagnosis or treatment, when the symptoms occur, and how long they last.

    Anxiety disorders cause serious symptoms that affect day-to-day life, including:

    • Feeling worried all the time.
    • Not being able to focus.
    • Not being able to "turn off thoughts" most of the time.
    • Trouble sleeping most nights.
    • Frequent crying spells.
    • Feeling afraid most of the time.
    • Having symptoms such as fast heart beat, dry mouth, shaky hands, restlessness, or feeling on edge.
    • Anxiety that is not relieved by the usual ways to lessen anxiety such as distraction by staying busy.
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