Long-Term Cancer Survivor Experience Severe Stress

Cancer survivors who have lived at least five years past their diagnosis are more than twice as likely to say their lives are extremely stressful than people who never had cancer. They report psychological stress that is severe enough to cause problems functioning at work, in school, or in social situations.

Survivors under 65 were more likely to have serious stress compared to those over 65. The number of years since cancer diagnosis made no difference in the risk of stress.

Survivors who were not married or living with a partner, had less than a high school education, were uninsured, or who smoked currently or in the past reported stress most often.  People who had trouble with routine daily activities were also at higher risk for stress.

Results of interviews conducted during the National Health Information Survey were presented on October 24, 2008 at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology meeting in Boston.  Nearly 127,000 people without cancer and 4,700 long-term cancer survivors were surveyed.  Most survivors had breast, gynecological, urological, or colorectal cancer.   Average age at diagnosis was 47, and the average age at interview was 62.

Karen Hoffman, MD, lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said

We hope these findings will raise awareness of the psychosocial needs of long-term cancer survivors and encourage routine psychological screening of these survivors. Quick, low-cost psychological screening tests are available that can and should be performed during clinic visits.

The National Health Interview Survey is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control each year. Interviewers from the National Health Interview Survey visit a statistically selected sample of US households asking questions about health and access to health care.


  1. Judith Novak says

    I am amazed that there would be any surprise at the study results. (I have been living with CC now 5 years, recurred 2 years ago, possible recurrence now.) Gosh – anytime the bomb could go off. All of us know folks who recurred or had a new cancer well past that magic 5 year mark. And then the new side effects that pop up, or never go away, that just adds to the fun.

    I am grateful for this study, even though it confirms common sense. I hope this message gets out to those who can help. Even just to hear “it’s normal to feel this way” can help immensely.

  2. Joyce Dunaway says


    My name is Joyce, I am a 52 year old hispanic female who had my first colonoscopy last week. It was so successful that I am encouraging all people (especially women) to have this done. I know that I had little to no risks but wanted to have one done for my peace of mind.

    It was so painless – I felt like as soon as I went under – I was wheeled to the recovery room. Once the nurse told me she was injecting me with the IV – and said “this is going to burn or sting a little”, which it did, the next thing I remember I was waking up in the recovery room staring at my husband. I didn’t feel like anything had been done to my bottom, I felt great & was excited because I was cancer free – not even any polyps. I was ready to eat too!!!! I recommend my doctor to anyone – he was great just as his surgical team had said!!! I went to work the next day and am so proud of my decision to take my life into my own hands.

    Another reason I did the test was because my husband asked me a couple of times to do it because his best friend from high school’s wife died of colon cancer last year at the age of 56.

    Thanks to the wonders of modern technology many procedures are quick and painless.

    Praise to my God & Savior, Jesus.

    JOyce Dunaway

  3. Deborah Kanter says

    As someone who is living past the five year post diagnosis marker, I find this post quite intriguing. And, yes, I can join the average age of diagnosis (48) and single marital status, another possible indicator of stress; although personally, that indicator is primarily economic.

    Since I see my life post cancer diagnosis as sharply enhanced in many ways, I cannot fully support the findings. Another reason, stress indicators are multifactoral, as is commonly realized.

    Far more than post colorectal cancer check ups, ulcerative proctitis or the consistent awareness of what I am doing to damage or bolster my health, are financial (including high price of individual health insurance) based stress indicators. These factors might be present in my life even without the diagnosis of cancer.

    I will look for more information on this survey. It is important to bring this to readers’ attention.

    Thanks, Kate

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