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Study Finds Depression, Anxiety are Not Linked to Cancer Risk

— October 4, 2023

Researchers have concluded having a mental health diagnosis has no impact on cancer risk.

anxiety and depression. A study just published by the journal Cancer took a look at more than 300,000 participants, making it one of the largest studies of its kind. Its purpose was to give a stronger basis to answer the question of whether or not there is a higher risk of cancer among people who have anxiety or depression. The research was completed using 18 groups of individuals located throughout the United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, and the Netherlands. The depression or anxiety of each participant was measured, and each was monitored for cancer of any type. Ultimately, there was no connection found between these mental health conditions and an increased risk of cancer.

It’s important to note, however, that types of cancer heavily linked to smoking are the exception to the results. According to United Press International, smokers who have depression or anxiety are slightly more likely than smokers who do not have depression and anxiety to develop some form of cancer.

There are several theories behind why this may be true. One theory is that smoking is a common, albeit unhealthy, coping mechanism for dealing with mental health symptoms, and many people turn to smoking for relief when they’re feeling stressed. Another theory is that cancers linked to smoking are influenced by other lifestyle choices in addition to smoking such as alcohol use and unhealthy eating habits. This suggests that it is lifestyle choices rather than mental issues that increase the likelihood of an individual developing cancer.

Study Finds Depression, Anxiety are Not Linked to Cancer Risk
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Additionally, depression and anxiety can cause the production of stress hormones, and these hormones are known to cause physical ailments such as heart disease. They can cause extensive damage to the cardiovascular and immune systems, in general, which could worsen cancer symptoms.

For many years experts have pushed having a positive mindset as a way to combat cancer. In other words, many people have been made to belief that if they continuously maintain a positive outlook, their risk of developing cancer will be minimal. This study helps provide relief for patients who have anxiety because they aren’t able to be positive and worry-free under such circumstances. Being diagnosed with depression or anxiety and having a tougher time staying positive doesn’t automatically equate to a cancer diagnosis at some point in the future.

The study was performed by a team of doctors and researchers led by Lonneke A. van Tuijl, PhD, Health Psychology Section, University of Groningen and was published online by the American Cancer Society Journals.

“We hope our findings provide some relief and people don’t get stuck in the thought process, ‘maybe if I had had therapy sooner for my depression’ or ‘maybe if I had worked harder in my therapy,’ or ‘maybe just got myself out of bed or left the house’ this might not have happened to me,” said Lonneke van Tuijl, who helped lead the research and is now at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “We don’t find evidence for that.”


Depression, anxiety don’t raise risk of cancer, study shows

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

Robust analysis challenges theory that depression and anxiety increase cancer risk

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