HomeHealth articlespsychological impact of cancerWhat Is the Psychological Impact of Cancer?

Psychological Impact of Cancer

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A diagnosis of cancer brings major emotional burdens of anxiety and stress to the affected and their relatives. Read the article to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Rajesh Gulati

Published At December 16, 2022
Reviewed AtFebruary 16, 2023


The diagnosis and treatment of cancer have various effects on patients and their relatives. Shock and denial are typical reactions just after the diagnosis, commonly followed by depression, anxiety, and wrath. A co-morbid mental health issue affects about one-third of cancer patients, necessitating professional assistance. Financial and social challenges brought on by being unable to work or provide medical care are frequently ignored. A cancer diagnosis changes the individuals thinking and affects their roles at work, school, and home. Thus, it is critical to detect these psychological changes and seek assistance.

What Is Psychological Stress?

  • Psychological stress is due to mental, physical, or emotional pressure.

  • Although sharing some psychological stress on occasion is acceptable, persons who encounter excessive amounts of it or do so repeatedly over an extended period run the risk of developing mental and physical health issues.

  • Daily obligations and commonplace occurrences can contribute to stress, as can more unexpected circumstances like trauma or illness in oneself or a close relative.

  • People experience discomfort when they believe they are powerless to control changes brought on by disease or by everyday activities.

What Happens When the Body Is Under Stress?

  • Epinephrine and norepinephrine are the stress hormones released in the body in response to physical, mental, or emotional pressure.

  • These hormones boost blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels.

  • These adjustments enable a person to react with more force and quickness to flee a perceived threat.

  • According to research, those who endure acute and prolonged stress may experience digestive, reproductive, urinary, and immune system weaknesses.

  • Chronic stress also increases the risk of viral illnesses like the flu and the common cold, as well as headaches, sleep issues, depression, and anxiety.

Can Mental Stress Lead to Cancer?

  • Although stress can lead to various physical health issues, there is insufficient proof that it can cause cancer.

  • Although there might be a correlation between some psychological traits and an increased risk of cancer, there is not enough evidence to support it.

  • Evident connections between mental stress and cancer may develop in several ways.

  • Stress-related habits, such as smoking, binge eating, or drinking alcohol, might raise a person's risk of developing cancer.

The discovery that a family member has a higher risk of developing cancer due to a shared hereditary risk factor may also cause stress.

What Impact Does Psychological Stress Have on Cancer Patients?

  • Cancer patients may experience stress from the disease's physical, mental, and social impacts.

  • After undergoing cancer treatment, those who choose dangerous coping mechanisms like smoking, consuming alcohol, or becoming more sedentary may experience a lower quality of life.

  • Contrarily, those who can apply efficient coping mechanisms to deal with stress, such as relaxation and stress management techniques, have fewer depressive and anxiety symptoms and symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment.

  • There is no proof that effective psychological stress management increases cancer survival.

How Does Psychological Stress Affect Cancer Patients?

  • According to research, psychological stress impacts a tumor's capacity to grow and spread.

  • For instance, several studies have demonstrated that stress-inducing settings, such as isolation from others or avoiding socializing, make the tumor grow and spread.

  • The stress hormone (norepinephrine) raises cancer risk by promoting metastasis.

  • Patients with triple-negative breast cancer undergoing neoadjuvant chemotherapy use beta blockers which interfere with several stress hormones.

  • However, women who did not use beta blockers were more likely to complete their cancer therapy without experiencing a relapse.

  • Certain studies indicate that a person may experience a sense of hopelessness or helplessness when stress becomes unbearably high.

  • Even though it is unknown what causes this reaction, increased death rates are linked.

  • Due to this, stress prevents people from seeking medical attention when sick, stopping therapy early or as prescribed, participating in dangerous activities like drug use, or neglecting to lead healthy lives, all of which contribute to early mortality.

How Can Psychological Stress Be Managed in Cancer Patients?

Distress is now more widely acknowledged as a component that might lower cancer patients' quality of life. However, patients can learn to manage psychological stress with emotional and social support. Clinical guidelines assess patient distress levels and provide management assistance. Such assistance can reduce anxiety and symptoms associated with their illness and medical treatments. Some strategies include the following:

  • Stress management training.

  • Meditation and relaxation.

  • Counseling sessions.

  • Cancer informational events or groups.

  • Social assistance through group environment.

  • Medications for anxiety or depression.

  • Exercise.

Is There Any Positive Impact Due to Cancer?

  • Cancer is an unpleasant disease; however, some research has indicated that despite cancer being challenging, there are certain benefits experienced by the patients.

  • Traumatic events can help to grow emotionally.

  • Such posttraumatic growth is described as a beneficial psychological transformation by overcoming harsh conditions in one's life.

  • People believed they did not go back to life as usual after crises; instead, they had developed, matured, and been enriched.

  • Five dimensions of posttraumatic growth can be seen as positive changes:

    1. A more excellent grasp of strength.

    2. A shift in priorities.

    3. A deeper enjoyment of life.

    4. Awareness of new opportunities in life.

    5. Warmer and more intimate interactions with others.

How Does the Positive Change Manifest After Cancer?

  • Numerous variables influence how posttraumatic change manifests in individuals.

  • Minimal alcohol intake, low levels of pessimism and despair, high levels of extraversion, leading an active life, and obtaining therapy are just a few of the many enabling characteristics noted.

  • The research found that receiving art therapy in an outpatient environment once a week does not promote posttraumatic growth.

  • This result stems from the cynicism of positive psychology in general and the idea of growth amid adversity and severe sickness.

  • However, only a few studies have examined whether psychosocial therapies can promote posttraumatic growth in the aftermath, and there is little evidence, particularly in cancer patients.


Healthcare professionals can use various screening tools, such as a distress scale or questionnaire, to help cancer patients with their emotions. Early in their treatment, all cancer patients should have a distress screening and repeat it at critical points throughout their care. Clinical health psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists aid when a patient shows moderate to severe distress.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are a Cancer Patient's Psychological Needs?

Cancer patients need immense psychological support to cope with their diagnosis and treatment. A sense of control and autonomy, family and friend support, a hopeful outlook, a sense of being heard and understood, and a sense of purpose and meaning are a few of the most crucial needs. Along with assistance with problem-solving and decision-making, patients could also require help controlling stress, anxiety, and depression.


What Social Effects Does Cancer Have on a Person?

Cancer can significantly impact a person's social life. The condition and its treatments may be physically and emotionally taxing on individuals, making it challenging for them to engage in social activities or preserve tight bonds with friends and family. Due to the high expense of treatment and medicines, Cancer can also lead to financial troubles. Stress and anxiety may result from this, which may have an even greater negative effect on the person's mental and emotional health. Additionally, a person's looks or physical capabilities may change due to Cancer, lowering their confidence and self-esteem.


What Feelings Are Related to Cancer?

A cancer diagnosis frequently results in a spectrum of complex emotions. As they deal with the uncertainties and difficulties that come with a cancer diagnosis, many people experience dread, anxiety, and stress. Some people may experience feelings of rage and irritation, especially if treatment-related restrictions are placed on their everyday activities. On the other hand, some people could feel hopeful and upbeat, and the love and support of loved ones might give them a much-needed burst of inspiration. In addition, many people experience melancholy, depression, or even grief, mainly if the prognosis is fatal.


How Do You Deal Emotionally With Cancer?

People might find solace and assistance through family, friends, or a support group. Exercise, yoga, meditation, and other relaxing pursuits can all assist in lowering stress and anxiety. Speaking with a counselor or therapist also provides comfort for some people. Communication with medical providers regarding treatment options and expectations should be honest and transparent. It's also essential to emphasize self-care and take care of oneself. Keeping in mind to live each day as it comes and discovering joy and hope along the way is the key.


Does Cancer Affect the Mind?

Having Cancer can indeed have a serious influence on a person's mental health. An individual may experience physical and psychological strain due to a cancer diagnosis, therapies, and persistent health issues. As a result, people with Cancer frequently feel helpless and out of control, as well as worried, anxious, and melancholy. Additionally, they can struggle to concentrate, have trouble sleeping, and have changes in their appetite and activity levels. The effects of Cancer on a person's mental health may be exacerbated by their social, economic, and personal situations.


Does Cancer Have an Impact on Intelligence?

Cancer can affect a person's physical and mental health, including IQ. According to several research, cognitive issues like memory, attention, and executive functioning deficits can result from Cancer and its therapies. However, depending on the type of Cancer and the individual, the severity and duration of these cognitive issues vary substantially. According to other research, many cancer patients see an improvement in their cognitive skills as a result of their heightened motivation and focus during treatment. In conclusion, the effect of Cancer on intelligence is complex and individualized for each person.


What Should You Never Say to a Cancer Patient?

It's crucial to remember that people with Cancer frequently experience mental and physical distress, and the last thing they need is to feel criticized or unsupported. Avoid making hurtful remarks like "Why did you get cancer?" or "You don't look unwell." Avoid saying, "At least it's a minor form of cancer," which would minimize their experience. Avoid talking about their possibilities of survival as well, as it is not up to you to decide on their fate. Offer words of support, encouragement, and understanding instead.


What Is Every Human's Highest Psychological Need?

The need for self-actualization is the ultimate psychological need shared by all people. This refers to realizing one's full potential and striving to improve oneself. It is the desire to advance intellectually, express one's uniqueness, and contribute significantly to society. The term "self-actualization" refers to a broad variety of individual objectives, including growth in self-awareness, originality, spirituality, and benevolence. Since it is the most intrinsic and self-directed and gives life a sense of meaning, it is regarded as the highest need. It is thought that achieving self-actualization is a lifetime process that can only happen when lower-level requirements, like physiologic, safety, and social demands, are satisfied.


Can Cancer Cause Mental Illness?

Cancer can severely affect mental health, resulting in several mental diseases, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. Mental discomfort can be exacerbated by the cancer treatment's physical and emotional demands, the worry of a recurrence, and the uncertainty of the future. Low self-esteem can contribute to mental illness, as can the social stigma around Cancer and the physical changes it causes.


Why Do Cancer Patients Fail to Remember Things?

Cancer patients may have amnesia and memory loss for several conditions and treatment-related reasons. Because chemotherapy medications alter how brain cells function and communicate with one another, they can temporarily impair memory, a condition known as "chemo brain." By damaging the brain's capacity to absorb information and recall memories, radiation therapy can also cause cognitive problems.


What Problems Do Cancer Patients Face?

People with Cancer deal with a variety of difficulties daily. Pain, exhaustion, loss of independence, social isolation, and financial hardship are just a few mental and physical challenges that Cancer can cause in a person's life. Hair loss, nausea, and fatigue are some of the difficult-to-manage side effects that can result from cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. In addition to facing lengthy wait periods for diagnosis and treatments, cancer patients struggle to access supportive care and proper pain management.


How Can You Boost a Cancer Patient's Spirit?

A cancer patient's spirit needs to be raised to successfully navigate the physical, emotional, and mental difficulties that the disease presents. You might start by expressing your love and support for them by speaking encouraging words to them, spending time with them, and paying attention to their wants and worries. Share with them your help and the assurance that they are not alone. These small gestures of support and kindness can do wonders for their spirits and significantly impact their general well-being.


How Can You Support Someone With Cancer?

It can be challenging but gratifying to support a cancer patient. Being there for them emotionally and providing your love and support in any manner you can is one of the most crucial things you can do. Additionally, you can provide financial assistance by paying for their medical bills. To be able to offer knowledgeable service, it's also crucial to educate yourself about their illness and become aware of what they are experiencing. You may support your loved one through one of the most challenging times in their life by providing support and strength.
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Dr. Rajesh Gulati
Dr. Rajesh Gulati

Family Physician


psychological impact of cancer
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