Mental Health and Mesothelioma

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A mesothelioma diagnosis can affect mental health. Many patients in cancer treatment struggle with depressed mood and anxiety. Mental health issues do not cause cancer, but help is available if cancer is making life harder and more stressful.

A diagnosis of mesothelioma can be frightening and demanding. Learning you have cancer can overwhelm even your best coping skills.

Mental health may not be at the top of your concerns after a mesothelioma diagnosis, but it’s important to take care of your mind and body.

Understanding the level and type of psychological distress common among mesothelioma patients is a good place to start.

Learning about the connection between cancer and mental health, along with ways to manage these challenges is another important step. This will put you on the path to finding the support you need.

A focus on mental health awareness and self-care for mesothelioma patients should be a priority. Your doctors, nurses and caregivers know you’ll do better during treatment if your emotional needs are met.

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What Do We Know About Mental Health and Mesothelioma?

There are many studies of cancer and mental health, though only a small portion of these investigations focus on mesothelioma.

In March 2018, the American Journal of Industrial Medicine published a review of the best research on this topic.

One common theme emerged from the papers: Mesothelioma patients experience significant psychological distress.

The study authors documented stress reactions among people who had received a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Patients and families expressed shock, dismay, anxiety, depression, apathy, difficulty concentrating, anger and social dysfunction. If you’ve been through this, it may help to know you’re not alone in feeling this way.

How Does Cancer Affect Your Mental Health During Treatment?

Research supports that health care professionals play an important role in the severity of distress among mesothelioma patients.

In particular, health care providers with better communication skills lessened distress and trauma among patients.

This finding supports the importance of seeing a mesothelioma specialist.

The most knowledgeable doctors and nurses are in the best position to help you navigate treatment options. They can do this with skill and compassion.

Knowing you’re in the hands of true mesothelioma experts will make cancer treatment more manageable.

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Finding the Right Treatment Facility

Many cancer treatment centers do not have a mesothelioma specialist on staff. This doesn’t mean patients should immediately go somewhere else for cancer care. It simply reflects the fact mesothelioma is rare.

Only a small number of oncologists are considered experts in managing mesothelioma. If your current cancer doctor does not have much experience treating mesothelioma, ask for a second opinion.

Do not worry about offending your doctor. Oncologists are used to consulting with others. They request second opinions from other doctors themselves.

Your cancer center can help you put the pieces in place to get a second opinion. This might include sending scans, medical records and blood tests to the consulting physician.

A mesothelioma specialist also can be an important link to learning more about clinical trials. An experienced mesothelioma doctor may be conducting a study or have more awareness of ongoing trials appropriate for your diagnosis.

All of this information can contribute to better mental health during chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other treatments you are considering.

Can Cancer Cause Mental Illness?

People diagnosed with cancer can develop depression and anxiety. According to the National Cancer Institute, up to 25 percent of cancer patients experience depression.

The depression rate among the general public is around 7 percent of adults.

These statistics suggest the stress of cancer contributes to some forms of mental illness.

People studying the mental health of mesothelioma patients have documented something called “sickness behavior.”

Sickness behavior is a set of nonspecific symptoms — fever, loss of appetite, depression, anxiety, trouble making decisions, poor concentration and heightened pain response — occurring in response to receiving the diagnosis.

Supportive Care Works

There is good news: Quality of life improves, and distress decreases for mesothelioma patients who receive the help they need to cope with their diagnosis.

Distress decreases in mesothelioma patients who:

  • Have access to clear and accurate legal information on the possibility of compensation.
  • Participate in mesothelioma support groups.
  • Seek counseling from a licensed mental health professional with expertise in cancer care.
  • Take advantage of physical therapy care to improve physical function.
  • Improved their diet to improve health.
  • Received palliative care.

By getting the needed support, mesothelioma patients can have and maintain strong mental health after a diagnosis.

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Oncology Medical Writer

Suzanne Dixon is a registered dietitian, epidemiologist and experienced medical writer. She has volunteered with the National Cancer Policy Forum, Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, American Institute for Cancer Research, American Society for Clinical Oncology, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The New York Times and Time Magazine also have reviewed her cancer patient resources.

Walter Pacheco, Managing Editor at Asbestos.com
Edited by
Dana Nolan
Medical Review By

3 Cited Article Sources

  1. Bonafede, M. et al. (2018). The psychological distress and care needs of mesothelioma patients and asbestos-exposed subjects: A systematic review of published studies. Am J Ind Med, 61, 400-412. DOI: 10.1002/ajim.22831
  2. National Cancer Institute. (2017, November 2). Depression (PDQ) — Health Professional Version.
    Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/feelings/depression-hp-pdq
  3. National Institute of Mental Health. (2017, November). Major Depression. Retrieved from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml
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Last Modified September 10, 2019

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