Mental Health Concerns After a Colon Cancer Diagnosis

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 100,000 cases of colon cancer are diagnosed each year. With so many Americans affected by this disease each year, researchers have sought to learn more about its effects. By taking a more holistic approach, they have recently learned that colon cancer can have negative mental health effects, even years after diagnosis. Here, Regional Cancer Care Associates summarizes what the research results mean for patients with colon cancer.

What Is Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer, also called colorectal cancer, occurs when small, noncancerous cell clumps, called polyps, form on the inside of the colon and develop into cancer. Polyps produce few or no symptoms, so getting regular colon cancer screenings from your doctor is crucial to having the disease caught early. The earlier colon cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat.

Colon cancer symptoms vary based on the cancer’s size and location. They can include one or more of the following:

  • Irregular bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or other change in stool consistency
  • Rectal bleeding or bloody stools
  • Regular abdominal discomfort, including cramps, gas, or pain
  • Feeling like your bowel doesn’t completely empty
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately to see if colon cancer is the cause.

Mental Health Effects of Colon Cancer

Aside from its physiological symptoms, researchers have found that colon cancer also causes mental health effects in patients. In some cases, coping with a diagnosis can cause depression and anxiety. For others, the physical and psychological impact of managing multiple treatments at the same time plays a role. Individuals who undergo a colostomy may also experience mental health effects due to physical changes and the overall impact of the procedure; this can affect work duties, workouts, sexual activity, dietary choices, and even clothing.

In a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers compared clinical data from 8,961 patients who survived colon cancer and 35,897 people similar in age and background (matched controls) from the general population who never had colon cancer. The researchers found the following mental health disorder incidence rates among colon cancer survivors at different periods after their initial diagnosis:

  • 0 to 2 years after diagnosis:8% among survivors, compared with 8.7% for controls
  • 2 to 5 years:8% among survivors, compared with 11.4% for controls
  • More than 5 years:9% among survivors, compared with 21.7% for controls

As the data shows, colon cancer survivors developed mental health disorders at greater rates than the general population in each time frame. Also, the survivors were at an increased risk of experiencing a depressive episode during any of these periods. The researchers concluded that colon cancer survivors have a high need for supportive care at all points during follow-up, including mental health screenings and treatment.

Color Cancer Treatment and Post-Care

If you have been diagnosed with colon cancer, maintaining a regular line of contact with your physician can be critical to overcoming your disease. At Regional Cancer Care Associates, we offer many colon cancer treatments, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and more. Plus, we can also refer you to the best mental health care facilities throughout Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey for regular outpatient appointments.

At our facility, we understand that beating cancer – and even life after cancer – takes commitment. That’s why we offer an array of helpful services to get you back to feeling your best. It’s also why we offer our patients a handy online database, where they can research their health-related questions before their visit. Visit one of our many convenient locations in Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey to learn more about the mental health effects of colon cancer and how we can help.