The younger the cancer survivor the more likely psychological distress

Although we know well that most cancer survivors struggle with mental health issues, multiple studies show that there is a correlation with age: the younger the survivors are, the more likely they will develop symptoms of psychological distress. 

Adolescents and young adult cancer survivors (AYA - those between the age of 15 and 39 at the time of diagnosis) have significantly higher risks of experiencing mood and anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, mania, phobias and panic disorder. 

Adolescents and young cancer survivors have significantly higher risks of experiencing psychological distress that can re-occur or even increase years after the treatment.

A considerable portion of cancer survivors (around 40%) reported moderate to high levels of anxiety and depression in the years following their treatment. This particularly vulnerable group not only struggles with psychological distress more often, but also for longer. Often, the symptoms even become stronger 10-12 years after the treatment as cancer diagnosis is known for producing delayed detrimental effects in both psychological and physical health. The negative impact on cancer treatment on long-term health (infertility, secondary cancers, cardiac dysfunction, neurocognitive dysfunction) that manifest later in life, bring back the fears of cancer reoccurrence and a sense of lack of control. For many of these people, a cancer diagnosis is the the first time they are confronted with death. Due to their age, few have a grandparent or parent who has died. Few have even been to a funeral.  

For many young cancer survivors, a cancer diagnosis is the first time they are confronted with death. Few have even been to a funeral of a grandparent. 

According to Karen Fasciano, a clinical psychologist at the Harvard Medical School and director of the Young Adult Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, although AYA cancer survivors want to make future plans, the future seems very elusive, making it difficult to feel in control. Fitting in peer groups is also a challenge because they feel isolated by the uniqueness of what they have experienced. 

Only 9% young cancer survivors seek psychological help, due to low awareness of immediate tremendous benefits of such support. 

Multiple studies also show that sadly, only 9% of AYA cancer survivors seek psychological help. This number is so low mainly because they are unaware of the tremendous immediate benefits of such help. Cancer is a transformational experience indeed, but why not also notice the positive life changes following the cancer diagnosis? Cancer is also representative of hope and an opportunity to celebrate life. People who worked with cancer-focussed psychologists stated that they started seeing how cancer changed their life for better after 2-3 sessions. They became more health conscious, exercise more, are more grateful and more mindful of the little positive moments of the day.  

Reclaim your life and choose to live it on your own terms, in a fearless, fabulous way! 

  • Hoffman, K.E. et al (2009). "Psychological Distress in Long-term Survivors of Adult-Onset Cancer". Arch Intern Med;169(14)
  • Lang, M.J. et al (2017). "Does age matter? Comparing post-treatment psychosocial outcomes in young adult and older adult cancer survivors with their cancer-free peers". Psycho-oncology - Journal of the Psychological, Social and Behavioural Dimensions of Cancer
  • Kosir, U. et al (2019). "Psychiatric disorders in adolescent cancer survivors: A systematic review of prevalence and predictors". Cancer Rep (Hoboken). Jun; 2(3)