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Adjustment to Cancer: Anxiety and Distress

Adjustment Disorders

Adjustment disorders may cause serious problems in daily life.

An adjustment disorder occurs when the patient's reaction to a stressful event:

Adjustment disorders may be caused by cancer diagnosis, treatment, recurrence, or the side effects of treatment.

An adjustment disorder usually begins within three months of a stressful event and lasts no longer than six months after the event is over. Some patients may develop a chronic adjustment disorder because they have many causes of distress, one right after another.

An adjustment disorder may become a more serious mental disorder such as major depression. This is more common in children and adolescents than in adults. (See the PDQ summary on Pediatric Supportive Care for more information.)

Counseling can help patients with adjustment disorders.

Individual (one-to-one) and group counseling have been shown to help cancer patients with adjustment disorders. Counseling may include treatment that focuses on the patient's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The following are methods that may help patients cope:

Counseling may be combined with antianxiety medicine or antidepressants.

Counseling should be tried before medicine. Some patients are not helped by counseling or develop a more severe mental health problem, such as severe anxiety or depression. These patients may be helped by an antianxiety or antidepressant medicine along with counseling. (See the PDQ summary on Depression for more information.)