Analysis: Depression, Anxiety Do Not Increase the Risk of Cancer

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Aug. 11, 2023 – While depression and anxiety have been linked to a wide range of other health problems, a new analysis shows there is no link between the two psychiatric disorders and the risk of most major cancers. 

The findings were published this week in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society.

The authors wrote that they undertook the study because depression and anxiety have long been thought to be linked to increased cancer risk, but previous research on the connection has been inconclusive. This latest analysis combined data from 18 previous studies and included 319,613 people, who among them had 25,803 cases of cancer. The follow-up period for some people was as much as 26 years. 

The researchers found no associations between depression or anxiety and overall cancer risk, nor did they find a link with breast cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, or alcohol-related cancers.

They did find that depression and anxiety were associated with a 6% increased risk of developing lung cancer or smoking-related cancers, but the researchers concluded that behaviors like smoking and alcohol use were likely the driving factors, not depression and anxiety. The authors noted that previous studies have found that people who are depressed are more likely to be smokers.

“Our results may come as a relief to many patients with cancer who believe their diagnosis is attributed to previous anxiety or depression,” said study author Lonneke A. van Tuijl, PhD, who studies anxiety and mood disorders, in a statement. She is a post-doctoral researcher at the University Medical Center Groningen in The Netherlands.

“However,” she added, “further research is needed to understand exactly how depression, anxiety, health behaviors, and lung cancer are related.”



Cancer: “Depression, anxiety, and the risk of cancer: An individual participant data meta-analysis.”

Wiley: “Robust analysis challenges theory that depression and anxiety increase cancer risk.”