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Cancer Prevention and Mental Health Impacts on Women

Ann Witt, M.D., and Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D., edited by Benjamin McDonald, MD Updated: Jun 29th 2016

Cancer Prevention:

woman making good food choicesMuch of the focus on decreasing deaths from cancer goes toward ensuring that women have routine screening tests such as mammograms, colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and pap smears. In terms of prevention, a women's risk of developing cancer is affected by her lifestyle and dietary choices. In addition to not smoking, the American Institute for Cancer Research promotes the following dietary recommendations to decrease the risk of cancer in women:

1. Eating a diet consisting mostly of plant-based foods with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
2. Minimizing red meat consumption and fatty foods. If eaten, keep red meat to less than 3 oz/day and choose vegetable oil over animal fats.
3. Minimizing salt intake.
4. Limiting alcohol intake to one drink a day.
5. Avoiding charred food (i.e. burnt on the grill).
6. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising daily.

Mental Health and Cancer:

Cancer is a serious disease that can significantly impact a person's physical and mental health. The physical pain that comes with cancer is usually the biggest factor that negatively affects person's quality of life. Pain often limits an individual's ability to engage in normal daily activities like cooking, bathing, and dressing.

There is an increased rate of depression, but not other mental illnesses, in patients with cancer. Typically, 10-25% of patients with cancer will have either major depression or some depressive symptoms.  These could include difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping; fatigue and lack of energy; appetite changes; feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and guilt; inability to concentrate, think clearly, or make decisions; agitation, restlessness, and irritability; inactivity and withdrawal from typical pleasurable activities; feelings of hopelessness and helplessness; thoughts of death or suicide). The rate of depression appears to be similar between men and women. Oropharyngeal (cancers of the mouth and throat), pancreatic, breast and lung cancer are more commonly associated with depression than other types of cancer.

Because depression and cancer share common symptoms such as fatigue, weight, and appetite changes, depression often remains under-diagnosed in cancer patients. Treating depression is important, as studies have shown that there are health implications from lack of treatment. Without treatment, depression can lead to social withdrawal, neglect of self-care, and in severe cases, suicidal behavior. Furthermore, some studies show that breast cancer patients who are depressed have a decreased rate of survival.

One way to minimize the challenges of diagnosing and treating depression in cancer patients is to combine mental health and oncology (cancer-related) services in the same medical facility. Studies have shown that patients receive the best mental health care when the services are available at the same place. If your medical facility does not have both types of services, seeking out a mental health professional who has experience working with women with cancer is important. For more information on cancer, please see that topic center

 

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