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Metastatic small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) is more than a physical disease. It can have a serious impact on your mental health. Your emotional highs and lows might come from mental stress, cancer treatment, or effects from the disease itself.

Reach out to your medical team if you need help managing your moods. They’ll help you control the physical and emotional side effects that come with cancer, even the ones that continue after treatment.

Metastatic SCLC and Your Mental Health

It might seem like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster. You may be the most distressed during the first few months or year after your diagnosis. But some physical and mental health effects can stay with you for a while. 

But cancer affects everyone in a different way. There’s no “right” way to feel. Some people like to focus on the positive things in their life. On the other hand, you may need to express your fears and concerns to feel better.

If you have metastatic SCLC, you may have some of the following emotions:  

  • Anger or guilt about being sick
  • Worry for your loved ones
  • Stress and anxiety about treatment
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Loneliness after treatment is over

You may have depression. It’s one of the most common mental health problems in people who have cancer. Depression can show up in a lot of different ways. You may sleep a lot more or less than you used to, or you may have a sense of emptiness almost every day. Tell your doctor about any mood or appetite changes. Treatment can help.

You can feel low for a lot of reasons, including the fact that you know you have a life-threatening illness. But there’s evidence that inflammation, pain, and side effects from cancer treatment can also play a role.

Your chances of depression go up if you have lung cancer and the following:   

  • Personal or family history of depression
  • Lack of social support
  • Poor communication with your medical team
  • Unhelpful coping skills
  • Advanced cancer

Uncertainty about your health may also cause or worsen underlying mood issues. Along with depression and anxiety, cancer raises your odds of an adjustment disorder. That’s a condition where you have a really hard time handling the changes that come with stressful life events like cancer.

Lung cancer raises your odds of suicide. People who have lung cancer are four times more likely to commit suicide when compared to the general public. Your chances may be even higher if you have advanced SCLC. Psychological support can go a long way in lowering the odds you’ll hurt yourself.

Bring up any uneasy emotions with your doctor. Tell a loved one or get medical help right away if you have thoughts of suicide.

Why Mental Health Care Matters

People who have conditions such as a depressive disorder don’t do as well throughout their disease. But studies show people who have lung cancer and a prior mental illness tend to live longer when they have social support and get treatment for their mood disorders.

Depression treatment and other kinds of mental health care are associated with better cancer outcomes. But we need more research to know exactly how these kinds of treatments affect survival.

Mental health treatment may improve your cancer-related results by setting you up to make healthier decisions. If your well-being is in a good place, you may be more likely to:

  • Stick with your cancer treatment
  • Have lower stress levels
  • Get good nutrition
  • Exercise regularly
  • Lessen any drug and alcohol use

How to Get Mental Health Care

Your medical team can point you in the right direction. You might work with a social worker, palliative care specialist, or other mental health professional. You might find comfort from a chaplain or spiritual counselor or support group.

Here are some mental health tools that might help ease stress and boost your quality of life:  

Talk therapy. A cancer-focused therapist can help you adjust to life with metastatic SCLC. They might want you to try different kinds of therapy, including:

  • Problem-solving therapy
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction
  • Group therapy

Connect with a cancer group. You might feel better when you talk to people who know what you’re going through.

Learn to relax. Take time each day to do something that helps you feel calm. Take a walk, do yoga, read a book, or go to the movies. If you’re not sure how to unwind, ask your counselor or psychologist for tips. They might suggest meditation, guided imagery, or breathing exercises.

Try medication. Antidepressants may improve your mood and outlook on life. But these drugs might not work for everyone. Ask your doctor if they’re right for you.

Lean on your friends and family. You don’t have to handle cancer alone. Let your loved ones know when you’re wiped out and need some extra help. Social support can improve your quality of life and may help you live longer.

Talk to Your Doctor

Keep your cancer care team in the loop about how you’re feeling. Bring up any mood or behavior changes that worry you. Unmanaged mental health issues can make it harder to manage your lung cancer.

Remember that your cancer care doesn’t end when your treatment does. Reach out to your health care team anytime you need support.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: SDI Productions / Getty Images\


Christine Bestvina, MD, thoracic oncologist; assistant professor of medicine, University of Chicago, Chicago.

OncoTargets and Therapy: “Quality of life of patients with lung cancer.”

Ecancermedicalscience: Lung cancer patients have the highest malignancy-associated suicide rate in USA: a population-based analysis.

BMC Psychiatry: “The characteristics and risk factors for common psychiatric disorders in patients with cancer seeking help for mental health.”

Cancer.Net: “Lung Cancer – Small Cell: Follow-Up Care.”

National Cancer Institute: “Feelings and Cancer,” “Depression (PDQ) – Health Professional Version,” “Adjustment to Cancer: Anxiety and Distress (PDQ) — Patient Version,” “Study Links Mental Health Treatment to Improved Cancer Survival,” “Spirituality in Cancer-Care (PDQ) — Patient Version.”

Psychopharmacology: “Inflammation in cancer and depression a starring role for the kynurenine pathway.”

Lung Cancer: “Depression Symptom Trends and Health Domains among Lung Cancer Patients in the CanCORS Study.”

Cureus: “Effect of Treating Depressive Disorders on Mortality of Cancer Patients.”