Cancer patients who have suffered mental health problems are less likely to survive the disease, according to new research.
A study found that those who had received emergency psychiatric help prior to their cancer diagnosis were up to three quarters more likely to die.
The scientists at the University of Toronto who conducted the research believe the stress endured by people with mental health problems may disrupt the body’s immune system, which plays an important role in overcoming cancer.
They called for a greater focus on patients’ mental health history once a diagnosis of cancer has been made.
Published in the British Journal of Cancer, the study examined the records of more than 675,000 cancer patients with 10 of the most common forms of cancer.
Those who had visited their GP about their mental health prior to their cancer diagnosis were on average five per cent more likely to die from their disease compared to someone who had never sought psychiatric help.
Patients who were seen in A&E for their mental health were 36 per cent more likely to succumb, while those who had been hospitalised for mental health problems were 73 per cent more likely.
Dr Zachary Klaassen, lead author at the Georgia Cancer Center, said: “We think this means mental health may play a larger role in cancer outcomes than previously thought.
“Major depression and stress may affect our body’s immune surveillance systems, effectively hampering the ability to detect and fight cancer.
“A recent psychiatric history should be a red flag to all doctors and nurses treating cancer patients.
“It’s essential we keep a close eye on these patients to make sure they’re receiving the best possible care and are followed up if and when cancer appointments are missed.”
The research also found that bladder and bowel cancer patients who had received help for their mental health had a significantly higher chance of death compared to patients with the same cancers who hadn’t had any psychiatric problems.
Bladder cancer patients with a history a of hospital admission were more than twice as likely to die from their cancer, but researchers are unsure as to why.