Anxiety, Fear, and Depression

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Cancer affects your emotional health

Most patients, families, and caregivers face some degree of depression, anxiety, and fear when cancer becomes part of their lives. These feelings are normal responses to this life-changing experience.

In people with cancer, these feelings may be caused by many things, including changes in how they are able to fill family or work roles. A person with cancer might feel the loss of control over life events, and have to deal with changes in body image. They might feel grief at the losses and changes in their lives that cancer brings. They might fear death, suffering, pain, or all the unknown things that lie ahead.

Family members and caregivers may have these feelings, too. They are often afraid of losing their loved one. They may also feel angry because someone they love has cancer, frustrated that they “can’t do enough,” or stressed because they have to do more at home.

It’s important to remember that people with cancer, as well as their friends and family, can feel distress about these things at any time after a cancer diagnosis, even many years after the cancer is treated. And as the cancer situation changes, they all must cope with new stressors along with the old, and their feelings often change, too. For instance, people dealing with cancer that’s spread and is making the person feel worse may have more emotional distress than those dealing with early-stage cancers.

People who have physical symptoms such as pain, nausea, or extreme tiredness (fatigue) also seem more likely to have emotional distress. Most of the time, physical symptoms can be controlled with medicines – but it could take more than one try to find the right drug or combination of drugs. This is one reason to stay in touch with the cancer care team, so that they can help with these kinds of symptoms before you feel overwhelmed.

The information we talk about here can help families, friends, and caregivers know what feelings and behaviors they might expect from their loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer. It will also help you understand what isn’t normal and when outside help is needed. And, it can help you recognize when you or others need outside help. Even though we’re talking about the person with cancer, all of these things can happen to caregivers, friends, and family members too. Anyone affected by cancer – theirs or a loved one’s – might need help dealing with the emotions that result.


Last Medical Review: 09/20/2013
Last Revised: 09/20/2013