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

Patients living with cancer need to make adjustments in their lives to cope with the disease and changes in treatment.

Living with a diagnosis of cancer involves many life adjustments. Normal adjustment involves learning to cope with emotional distress and solve problems caused by having cancer. Patients with cancer do not make these adjustments all at once, but over a period of time as their disease and treatment change. Patients may need to make adjustments when they:

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  • Learn the diagnosis.
  • Are being treated for cancer.
  • Finish treatment.
  • Learn that the cancer is in remission.
  • Learn that the cancer has come back.
  • Become a cancer survivor.

Coping methods help patients adjust.

Patients find it easier to adjust if they can carry on with their usual routines and work, keep doing activities that matter to them, and cope with the stress in their lives.

Coping is the use of thoughts and behaviors to adjust to life situations. The way people cope is usually linked to their personality traits (such as whether they usually expect the best or worst, or are shy or outgoing).

Coping methods include the use of thoughts and behaviors in special situations. For example, changing a daily routine or work schedule to manage the side effects of cancer treatment is a coping method. Using coping methods can help a patient deal with certain problems, emotional distress, and cancer in his or her daily life.

Patients who adjust well are usually very involved in coping with cancer. They also continue to find meaning and importance in their lives. Patients who do not adjust well may withdraw from relationships or situations and feel hopeless. Studies are being done to find out how different types of coping methods affect the quality of life for cancer survivors.

Patients who are adjusting to the changes caused by cancer may have distress.

Distress can occur when patients feel they are unable to manage or control changes caused by cancer. Patients with the same diagnosis or treatment can have very different levels of distress. Patients have less distress when they feel the demands of the diagnosis and treatment are low or the amount of support they get is high. For example, a health care professional can help the patient adjust to the side effects of chemotherapy by giving medicine for nausea.

The way each patient copes with cancer depends on many physical and emotional factors.

The following factors affect how a patient copes with the stress of cancer:

  • The type of cancer, cancer stage, and chance of recovery.
  • Whether the patient is newly diagnosed, being treated, in remission, or having a recurrence.
  • The patient's age.
  • Whether the patient is able to get treatment.
  • How well the patient usually copes with stress.
  • The number of stressful life events the patient has had in the last year, such as starting a new job or moving.
  • Whether the patient gets support from friends and family.
  • Social pressures caused by other people's beliefs and fears about cancer.
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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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