Long-term survivors of cancer are more likely to experience anxiety than depression, but their partners have even higher rates of anxiety than do the patients themselves.

These findings were brought to light by a large meta-analysis of reports addressing the prevalence of mood disorders in persons who had received a diagnosis of cancer at least 2 years before the start of the various studies. The researchers, led by Alex J. Mitchell, MD, of Leicester General Hospital, Leicester, United Kingdom, sought to determine whether depression and anxiety are more common in long-term survivors of cancer compared with their spouses and with healthy controls.

Among the 43 studies included in the main analysis, the prevalence of depression in persons 2 years or more after cancer diagnosis was approximately the same as that in adults with no history of cancer: 11.6% in the pooled sample of 51,381 cancer survivors vs 10.2% in 217,630 healthy controls.

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The prevalence of anxiety, however, was 17.9% in 48,964 cancer survivors, compared with 13.9% in 226,467 healthy controls, meaning that survivors were 27% more likely to experience anxiety. The comparative likelihood of experiencing anxiety rose to 50% for survivors in the 10 years or more after diagnosis.

In addition, spouses were just about as likely to suffer from depression as the cancer survivors themselves, with a prevalence rate of 26.3% for spouses and 26.7% for survivors. Moreover, spouses seemed to experience even more anxiety than the survivors themselves (40.1% vs. 28%).

The authors advised in their report for The Lancet Oncology that efforts be made to improve recognition and treatment of anxiety in long-term cancer survivors as well as the spouses of those patients.