People who experience anxiety and depression after being diagnosed with advanced lung cancer are more likely to die sooner according to new research from the University of British Columbia and BC Cancer Agency.

Dr. Rob Olson is the division head of Radiation Oncology at UBC and part of the Northern Medical Program. He contributed to the study, which studied the responses of 684 people who had completed psychological screening questionnaires while undergoing treatment for cancer.

“The people who didn’t have anxiety or depression on average would live over a year with this certain stage of lung cancer and then people who had high levels of anxiety or depression often lived one or two months shorter.”

The participants had all been recently diagnosed with stage three small cell lung cancer, which has a survival rate of only 46% after a year.

The study establishes an interesting link between mental states and cancer outcomes but can’t definitely say that depression and anxiety cause the worse outcomes. Still, Dr. Olson believes the findings are significant.

“If we didn’t see a relationship, then there wouldn’t be any benefit in trying interventions that improve anxiety and depression but since we found a relationship it makes us at least hypothesize that we should look at ways to improve them and see if the outcomes are better. I think that there’s enough evidence from our research that we should start exploring different methods like psycho-social screening and interventions like counselling, which have good evidence behind them. There’s less evidence for other things like food or natural sources.”

Olson says the researchers are planning to conduct the same study with prostate cancer patients. Previous studies have yielded similar results with breast cancer patients.

“I hypothesize that there’s less of a relationship but we need to look at that. In the patients that I treat, there seems to be higher levels of anxiety in advanced lung cancer than in prostate cancer so I think that’s one of the reasons that we found the relationship. It’s something that, I think, we have a duty to look and see who we should target our interventions at.”

You can see the results of the study here.

(Files from Shannon Waters with MYPRINCEGEORGENOW)