Patients with Lung Cancer Have Experienced More Psychological Distress During COVID-19 Than Those With Other Cancer Diagnoses

New study results demonstrate that patients with lung cancer have experienced more worries and general distress during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to other patients with cancer.

The general population has reported experiencing high rates of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, data regarding the psychological impact of the lockdown in patients with cancer have been limited.

As a result, researchers aimed to investigate the psychological status of patients with cancer receiving treatment in an outpatient setting at a non-COVID cancer center during the lockdown. The goal, according to the study authors, was to assess levels of depression and anxiety, as well as PTSD symptoms in patients and see if there were any differences between cancer diagnoses.

The data, which were presented at the 2020 World Conference on Lung Cancer, demonstrated that patients with lung cancer experienced higher levels of general distress, depression, and anxiety, compared to patients with lymphoma and breast cancer.

The study authors used a reporting scale to assess levels of depression, anxiety and general distress in 176 patients with lymphoma (77 patients), breast cancer (40 patients) and lung cancer (59 patients). More than half of the patients (55%) experienced a high level of general distress, 44.5% experienced a high level of depression and 58.4% experienced a high level of anxiety.

Moreover, the authors evaluated PTSD symptoms among those with cancer and using a reporting scale, 23.7% experienced severe PTSD symptoms. Women (27.3%) were more likely than men (18.4%) to experience severe PTSD symptoms during the lockdown.

The authors noted that 70% of patients declared their worries continued to increase throughout the pandemic. The most common concern the authors observed among all patients was the risk of getting infected while at the hospital (51%).

“What is important is to note that about a quarter of patients report severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the woman are found to be significantly more vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder. This seems to be confirmed in previous literature,” study author Dr. Domenico Galetta, of the IRCCS Oncologico Giovanni Paolo II in Bari, Italy, said in a virtual presentation of the data.

A priority, according to Galetta, to help address concerns surrounding COVID-19 in patients with cancer is to not only ensure they receive the vaccine quickly, but that they are also receive targeted mental health interventions while receiving ongoing treatment.

Patients with lung cancer were found to have higher levels of general distress, depression, and anxiety. In comparison to those with lymphoma or breast cancer, patients with lung cancer had higher scores of COVID-19 worries with the highest score being general distress. This is an increase from similar scores taken before the pandemic, related to how COVID-19 impacts the lungs and patients with lung cancer would be considered high-risk for severe symptoms of the virus.

“We think that it is a very important to protect cancer patient as one of the main components of any public health measures, but spatial intervention to promote mental well-being needs to be implemented immediately,” Galetta concluded.