Despite increasingly effective treatment options, 50% of colorectal cancer patients still have a high risk of death five to ten years after their initial diagnosis. Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald, researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and licensed psychologist recognized by the Ordre des psychologues du Québec, often pondered whether anxiety and depression decrease longevity: a relevant question since cancer patients are two to four times more likely to also suffer from anxiety and depressive disorders—symptoms generally associated with less healthy lifestyles (e.g. lack of physical activity, poor diet, drinking, smoking, etc.). Yet, there are few studies that rigorously examine the issue.
According to Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald, cancer patients who are anxious or depressed may adopt less healthy lifestyles.
As part of her postdoctoral fellowship, Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald studied epidemiological data collected over two decades from approximately 400 adults with colorectal cancer, one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers. First, she sought to determine whether the anxiety and depression experienced by women patients in the four years following their diagnosis were linked to a future lifestyle. She found that the more serious the patients’ psychological symptoms, the unhealthier their lifestyles up to a decade later. She then observed that patients who suffer from severe anxiety and depression had a 10 to 20% higher risk of early morality as compared to men and women who experience less acute symptoms.
According to Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald, cancer patients who are anxious or depressed may adopt less healthy lifestyles or fail to follow medical recommendations, thus affecting their chances of survival. She stresses how important it is for public health that health care professionals address patients’ mental health and lifestyles to improve their quality of life and life expectancy.