Cancer survivors take more psych meds than other people

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People who live through a bout with cancer are more likely to use medication for anxiety and depression than those without a history of malignancies, a U.S. study suggests.

About 19 percent of adult cancer survivors take drugs for depression, anxiety, or both, compared to roughly 10 percent of other adults, the study found.

“Survivors can have uncertainty about the future, worries about recurrence, altered self-image, concerns about relationships, financial hardships, unwanted physical changes, or new physical impairments,” said lead study author Nikki Hawkins, a behavioral scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

“The cumulative effect of these worries and changes can take a toll on survivors’ long-term emotional wellbeing – a likely reason why we see a higher rate of medication use in this group,” Hawkins added by email.

To assess use of psychiatric medications after cancer, researchers examined survey data collected from 2010 to 2013 from 3,184 people with a history of tumors and 44,997 adults without any history of malignancies.

Almost 14 percent of cancer survivors took antidepressants, compared to 8 percent of the other adults in the study, researchers report in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The difference was a little more pronounced for anti-anxiety medications, which were used by 17 percent of cancer survivors and 9 percent of other adults.

These findings suggest that 2.5 million cancer survivors take these psychiatric medications, the researchers estimate.

Cancer survivors were more likely to use drugs for anxiety when they were younger than 65, female, white, living with multiple chronic health problems and insured by government health programs such as Medicaid.

The profile of survivors most likely to use antidepressants was similar, but the type of insurance patients had didn’t seem to influence whether they used medication. Being divorced or experiencing the death of a spouse did, however, make cancer survivors more likely to take depression medication.

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