Being diagnosed with cancer is tough. Being diagnosed with cancer is often coupled with clinically meaningful levels of mental or emotional distress.

Researchers in Germany have found that during the prior four weeks nearly a third of more than 2,100 cancer survivors interviewed at inpatient and outpatient care centers experienced mental or emotional distress that meets the strict diagnostic criteria for mental disorders including anxiety, depressive and adjustment disorders. In the normal, non-cancer survivor population we would not expect to see rates higher than 18% at most.

When the researchers evaluated the types of disorders they found that 11.5% of cancer survivors experienced an anxiety disorder, 11% met the criteria for an adjustment disorder (a predominantly mixed anxiety-depressive syndrome that persisted for at least 4 weeks in response to a significant life change like cancer), and 6.5% had signs of a mood disorder (such as major depression).

They also found that the incidents of these mental health issues varied by cancer type. The highest prevalence was found among survivors with breast cancer (42%) and head and neck cancer (41%), followed by malignant melanoma (39%). The lowest prevalence was seen among patients with prostate cancer (22%), stomach cancers (21%), and pancreatic cancer (20%).

Given the very high levels of mental health stressors it is a wonder that out providers are not more sensitive to our needs. Cancer survivors need to be offered support when they are under stress, so medical providers need to be more sensitive to their needs. Providers and medical centers should institute formal screening for anyone diagnosed with cancer and the screening process should be continuous through the survivor’s entire treatment process.

Just as practitioners need to be more sensitive to their patients, so too should cancer survivors be aware of their feelings and, if needed, reach out for help.

October 6 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Oct 6, 2014