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Adjustment to Cancer: Anxiety and Distress


Anxiety and distress can affect the quality of life of patients with cancer and their families.

Patients living with cancer feel many different emotions, including anxiety and distress.

Anxiety and distress may affect a patient's ability to cope with a cancer diagnosis or treatment.

Patients may have anxiety while being screened for a possible cancer, waiting for the results of tests for cancer, receiving a cancer diagnosis, being treated for cancer, or worrying that cancer will recur (come back). It may cause patients to miss check-ups or delay treatment. Anxiety may increase pain, affect sleep, and cause nausea and vomiting. Even mild anxiety can affect the quality of life of patients with cancer and their families and may need to be treated.

Patients living with cancer can feel different levels of distress.

Some patients living with cancer have a low level of distress and others have higher levels of distress. The level of distress ranges from being able to adjust to living with cancer to having a serious mental health problem, such as major depression. However, most patients with cancer do not have signs or symptoms of any specific mental health problem. This summary describes the less severe levels of distress in patients living with cancer, including:

This summary is about adjustment to cancer, anxiety, and distress in adults with cancer.

See the following PDQ summaries for information on these mental health problems: