People with cancer experience severe anxiety toward end of life, not solely due to proximity to death, but rather to factors related to psychosocial issues and disease burden, suggests a new study out of Chang Gung University School of Nursing in Taiwan.
To offset symptoms of severe anxiety in patients with terminal cancer, researchers led by Siew Tzuh Tang, DNS, Chang Gung University, suggest early integration of palliative care incorporating high-quality management of physical and depressive symptoms.
‘Palliative care can help terminally ill patients with cancer relieve their severe anxiety symptoms by adequately managing both physical and depressive symptoms.’
The study, "Longitudinal Analysis of Severe Anxiety Symptoms in the Last Year of Life among Patients with Advanced Cancer: Relationships with Proximity to Death, Burden, and Social Support," was published ahead of print of the June 2016 issue of JNCCN - Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network
. Complimentary access to the article is available until August 31, 2016.
"This study uncovered abundant evidence that palliative care can help terminally ill patients with cancer relieve their severe anxiety symptoms by adequately managing both physical and depressive symptoms. Patients with strong social support can lighten perceived burden to others," said Dr. Tang. "It is the health care professionals' turn to integrate palliative care early in the cancer treatment process so that patients benefit from these interventions to improve their psychological well-being when fighting their cancer and facing their mortality."
The study followed 325 Taiwanese patients and data were collected on anxiety symptoms within five groups of variables:
- Demographics - sex, age, marital status, education level, and religious affiliation
- Disease-related characteristics
- Disease burden - physical and psychological symptom distress and functional dependence
- Perceived burden to others - patients' dependence on others for assistance
- Social support - positive social interaction and emotional, informational, tangible, and affectionate support
In the patient sample, severe anxiety symptoms increased as death approached; however, the prevalence of anxiety symptoms did not change significantly in the patients' last year. Instead, researchers found that the patients' severe anxiety stemmed from perceived burden to others, disease burden, and lack of social support.
Integrating earlier palliative care and incorporating high-quality management of the causes of patient anxiety may prevent the onset of distress in patients with advanced cancer, researchers suggest. According to the study, palliative care could better manage physical symptoms and provide psychological interventions to help patients. Moreover, evidence-based interventions may increase patients' coping skills for both current and future stressors associated with their diseases.
"This study points to the growing recognition of the importance of monitoring distress in patients with cancer and presents the oncology team with an immediate opportunity to improve the quality of life of terminally ill patients and their families through recognition and treatment of anxiety symptoms," said Mary Daly, MD, PhD, FACP, Chair of the Department of Clinical Genetics at Fox Chase Cancer Center, and Chair of the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN GuidelinesÂ®) Panel for Genetic/Familial High-Risk Assessment: Breast and Ovarian.
"Despite a substantial number of terminally ill patients suffering from anxiety symptoms, anxiety has not been as extensively studied in psycho-oncology research as depression but represents a unique problem in its own right," said Dr. Tang. "The most important finding in our study is that increasing severe anxiety symptoms are not inevitable throughout the dying process but rather related to factors modifiable by high-quality end-of-life care."