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Adjustment to Cancer: Anxiety and Distress (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Adjustment Disorders

Adjustment disorders may cause serious problems in daily life.

An adjustment disorder occurs when the patient's reaction to a stressful event:

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Causes of adjustment disorders in cancer patients include the following:

  • Diagnosis.
  • Treatment.
  • Recurrence.
  • Side effects of treatment.

An adjustment disorder usually begins within three months of a stressful event and lasts no longer than six months after the event is over. Some patients may have a chronic adjustment disorder because they have many causes of distress, one right after another.

An adjustment disorder may become a more serious mental disorder such as major depression. This is more common in children and adolescents than in adults. (See the PDQ summary on Pediatric Supportive Care for more information.)

Counseling can help patients with adjustment disorders.

Individual (one-to-one) and group counseling have been shown to help cancer patients with adjustment disorders. Counseling may include treatment that focuses on the patient's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The following may help patients cope:

  • Relaxation training.
  • Biofeedback.
  • Mental imagery exercises.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Plan for events that may happen in the future.
  • Change beliefs that are not true.
  • Distraction.
  • Thought stopping.
  • Positive thoughts.

Counseling may be combined with antianxiety medicine or antidepressants.

Counseling should be tried before medicine. Some patients are not helped by counseling or have a more severe mental health problem, such as severe anxiety or depression. These patients may be helped by an antianxiety or antidepressant medicine along with counseling. (See the PDQ summary on Depression for more information.)

Current Clinical Trials

Check NCI's list of cancer clinical trials for U.S. supportive and palliative care trials about adjustment disorder that are now accepting participants. The list of trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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