Spouses Of Cancer Patients At Risk For Mental Disorders, Nordic Study Says

Cancer can be tough for the patient but also for family or friends supporting the ill individual. A new study from two Nordic countries finds weary signs for spouses of cancer patients.

The study from Denmark and Sweeden evaluated if spouses of cancer patients are at increased risk of psychiatric disorders compared to spouses who weren’t in the same situation. The research found spouses of cancer patients were in more danger of mental health troubles.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. and accounted for nearly 10 million deaths across the globe in 2020, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is important for spouses to take steps to avoid added stress from caregiving.

Danish and Swedish discoveries

The sample size in the study was substantial. It included three million people from a population-based cohort study, featuring spouses of cancer patients in Denmark (1986-2016) and Sweeden (1973-2014). Members of the group featuring spouses of individuals without cancer were matched specifically. The research was conducted from May 2021 until January 2022 and published in JAMA last Thursday.

Participants featured 546,321 spouses of patients with cancer and 2,731,574 spouses of individuals without cancer. Most of the participants were female at 54% versus 46% male. Over two-thirds of the patients diagnosed with cancer were after 2000 and Danish residents.

The incidence rate of psychiatric disorders for spouses of cancer patients was 6.9% compared to 5.6% for spouses in the “unexposed group.” The research found the age group with the greatest risk for psychiatric disorders were spouses of cancer patients 40 to 59 years and 60 to 79 years old. Also, spouses with less income were more likely to develop mental health problems compared to higher-income spouses.

Spouses of cancer patients in aggressive stages were also more likely to suffer psychiatric disorders due to the increased weight of a possible fatality. Two other key findings include spouses at more risk for psychiatric disorders following the death of a loved one, and pre-existing mental health factors compared to participants with no such history.

Scientists believe the results motivate new measures to support spouses caring for a loved one with little assistance or in an elderly age group.

Limitations of the study include:

  • The number of participants from both countries was not equal.
  • Information on the level of education or past risk-factor history was not available for all participants.
  • No information was present regarding the living status of the spouse and cancer patient, treatments received by the cancer patient, or if caregivers were available.

Cancer across the U.S.

Based on numbers from the CDC, there were 602,350 cancer deaths in 2020 — a 20% drop from 2001. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., followed by colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer.

The CDC recommends regular screening tests to locate any signs of possible breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers in their early stages, Also, vaccines are available to help prevent certain forms of the disease such as cervical cancer. Simple healthy lifestyle choices such as nutritious eating habits, regular physical activity, and skin protection can lower the chances of cancer. In many cases, cancer can develop due to genetic factors.

Healthy steps for caregiving spouses

The American Cancer Society has different videos available that detail ways caregivers can remain healthy. Healthy foods for good energy include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread, and lean meats. Remaining physically active and finding time to relax are important for caregivers to maintain their health. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends 150 minutes of activity per week for adults and 60 minutes per day for children.

Stress and anxiety may increase when taking care of an ill loved one, so it is important to find ways to reduce the two when caregiving. Asking for help, participating in hobbies, and a good night’s sleep, are easy steps to manage stress.

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