Having a recent cancer diagnosis is associated with an increased risk for some mental health disorders and increased use of psychiatric medications.1

Although psychiatric comorbidities are common among patients with cancer, this study sought to understand if the risk of mental health disorders is increased during the diagnostic workup that leads to a cancer diagnosis.

The study included data from 304 118 patients with cancer and 3 041 174 cancer-free persons from the Swedish population who were randomly chosen and matched based on year of birth and sex. The study was led by Donghao Lu, MD, of the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. It investigated changes in risk for several common and potentially stress-related mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, somatoform/conversion disorder, and stress reaction/adjustment disorder. These changes were examined from the time of cancer diagnostic workup through to post diagnosis.

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The risk of some mental health disorders was found to increase starting 10 months before a cancer diagnosis and to peak during the first week after diagnosis. After that, risk decreased but remained elevated at 10 years after diagnosis.

The use of psychiatric medications increased at 1 month before diagnosis, peaked at 3 months after diagnosis, and remained elevated 2 years after diagnosis.

“Our findings support the existing guidelines of integrating psychological management into cancer care and call for extended vigilance for multiple mental disorders starting from the time of the cancer diagnostic workup,” the authors concluded.


1. Lu D, Andersson TML, Fall K, et al. Clinical diagnosis of mental disorders immediately before and after cancer diagnosis: a nationwide matched cohort study in Sweden [published online ahead of print April 28, 2016]. JAMA Oncol. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.0483.