A new Canadian study finds that two-thirds of current cancer patients and over three-quarters of former cancer patients aged 50 and over report having a high quality of life despite their illness.
“Cancer patients were doing much better than we had expected,” write researchers Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, lead author of the study, and Sandra Rotman, Endowed Chair and Director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging at the University of Toronto.
“Two-thirds met our very stringent criteria for ‘complete mental health’ which meant that they were happy and/or satisfied with their life on a daily or almost daily basis and they also reported very high levels of social and psychological wellbeing (e.g., having warm and trusting relationships with others, and reporting that their life has a sense of direction or meaning).”
Meeting the criteria for ‘complete mental health’ also required being free of mental illness, including depression or anxiety disorders, and having no substance dependence or suicidal thoughts in the past year.
The findings for cancer survivors was even better: Three-quarters reported living in complete mental health, which is a prevalence comparable to individuals with no cancer history, say the researchers.
For the study, the researchers looked at a nationally representative sample of Canadian community dwellers aged 50 and older with current cancer, previous cancer and no cancer history. The information was gathered from Statistics Canada’s 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health.
“Among those with former or current cancer, the odds of complete mental health were higher for women, white, married, and older respondents, as well as those with higher income and those who did not have disabling pain or functional limitations,” said co-author Keri West, a Ph.D. student at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto.
“We found that earlier difficulties cast a long shadow: those who had been physically abused during their childhood and those who had ever had depression or anxiety disorders were less likely to be in complete mental health.”
The authors emphasize that the findings are only correlational and it is impossible to determine causality due to the cross-sectional and observational nature of the survey. They also say that future longitudinal research is needed to better understand which particular factors might improve resiliency and recovery among cancer patients.
“These findings of incredible mental flourishing even in the context of cancer is a wonderful testament to the resiliency of patients and an encouraging message for patients, their families and their health care providers,” said Fuller-Thomson.
The findings are published in the journal Aging & Mental Health.
Source: University of Toronto