Cervical cancer patients under stress ‘face higher risk of death’

Diagnosed cancer patients were found to be at increased risk of several stress-related disorders Credit: PA

Emotional stress could see cervical cancer patients face a higher risk of cancer-specific death,  according to a study.

Donghao Lu, of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and a joint author of the report which is published in the Cancer Research journal, said there is growing evidence to suggest that “psychological distress might affect the progression of many cancer types”.

He also said that diagnosed cancer patients are at increased risk of several stress-related disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Fellow author Karin Sundstrom said: “If confirmed in other populations and countries, psychological screening and intervention may be considered as an integral component in cervical cancer care.”

A team of researchers at the institute looked at the potential impact of stress on these types of patients by examining a raft of documents including the records of 4,245 newly-diagnosed cervical cancer patients in Sweden between 2002 to 2011.

They also took note of patients who had been clinically diagnosed with psychiatric disorders – such as anxiety, depression, stress-reaction and adjustment disorders whose symptoms can include feelings of sadness, hopelessness and lack of sleep or concentration.

They also identified patients who had to deal with a stressful personal situation such as the death or severe illness of a family member, divorce, or being between jobs.

Women who had cervical cancer or unspecified uterine cancers as the underlying cause of death were picked up by the researchers who checked Sweden’s Causes of Death Register. Cervical cancer was named as the cause of death for 1,005 patients out of 1,392 who died.

Overall, the researchers found that 1,797 patients either had stress-related disorders or had undergone stressful life events.

Patients with a stress-related disorder or who had to deal with a stressful event in their lives were 33% more likely to die of the disease than those who had not reported stress, according to the study.

Those with stress-related disorders were 55% more likely to die of their cervical cancer, and those who had experienced a stressful life event were 20% more likely to die of their disease, according to the study.

Psychological support is on offer at large, university-based clinics for patients in Sweden, according to Ms Sundstrom.

Mr Lu also stated that the study suggests an association between stress and cervical cancer prognosis and should not be interpreted as a causal link.

This study was backed by the Swedish Cancer Society, the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life, and Welfare, and the Karolinska Institute.

Cancer Research is journal from the American Association for Cancer Research.