Women under 65 with cancer most likely to suffer emotional distress

Women under 65 are the most likely of all cancer patients to suffer from significant emotional distress - a study reports today in the British Journal of Cancer.

Researchers in Edinburgh assessed the degree of emotional distress of 3071 cancer patients using a computer screen questionnaire when attending follow-up outpatient clinics. They found that 674 (22 per cent) of them had significant emotional distress.

Female patients under 65 who had active cancer - as opposed to being disease free after successful treatment - were more often experiencing emotional distress. These factors were more important than the type of cancer they had.

Professor Michael Sharpe, lead author of the Cancer Research UK funded study, said:

"We need to get the message across that services to treat distress in cancer patients should be organised to target patients by characteristics other than their cancer diagnosis."

The researchers used an established questionnaire called Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) to ask patients questions relating to their emotional state. Patients used a computer touch- screen based system to answer questions on their emotional state.

Of the 674 patients who showed emotional distress, 432 were under 65 years old (24 per cent of all those in this age group), 497 were female, (25 per cent of all women) and 278 had active disease (28 per cent of all those in this group).

The study also found that emotional distress was experienced by 10 per cent of patients over 65, 17 per cent of male patients and 19 per cent of disease-free patients.

Patients were asked a variety of questions to determine the level of emotional distress. These ranged from how often they felt tense or wound up to whether they had lost interest in their appearance and to what extent they could enjoy a good book or radio or TV programme.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "Ideally all cancer patients should be monitored for anxiety and depression. This survey provides useful data indicating which patients are most likely to suffer emotional distress.

"Finding easily accessible information may help to alleviate patients' distress. Cancer Research UK has designed a website written in lay language and specifically designed for patients and their families to find out more about cancer diagnosis and treatment. To find out more visit CancerHelp UK.

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