Health In Focus
  • Anxiety disorders are fairly common worldwide in both sexes.
  • Anxious men show double the risk of cancer-related deaths.
  • No increased risk of dying from cancer was noted in anxious women.
  • Anxiety needs to be regarded as a serious health risk.

Anxious men have twice the risk of dying from cancer than normal men. This finding is the result of a study funded by the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK.

Details of The Study

Over a 15 year follow-up period, involving nearly 16000 Britons, it was found that men with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) were twice as likely to die of cancer than men who were not affected by anxiety. However, no such correlation existed in women, and anxious women did not show a greater risk of dying from cancer.
Anxious Men Twice As Likely To Die Of Cancer Compared To Normal Men

These findings were presented by Olivia Remes, a mental health researcher at the University of Cambridge and lead author of this study at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress in Vienna.

Dr. Olivia remarked, 'In the past there have been inconclusive studies of the relationship between cancer and anxiety. However our study is the largest one to look at this relationship. We found that men with generalised anxiety disorder are over twice as likely to die of cancer as men without this condition. This holds true even after taking account of a range of additional factors, such as age, major chronic diseases, serious mental illnesses, smoking, alcohol, physical activity, and medications'.

Researchers are unable to prove that a direct link exists between anxiety and cancer, but experts believe that the findings support the widely held belief that the physical stress caused by anxiety could weaken the body's immune system, thereby increasing the risk of cancer.

Also the reason for the lack of correlation between anxiety and cancer in women is unexplained.

Professor David Nutt, of Imperial College London, said the new findings did not surprise him.

"The intense distress that these people suffer often on a daily basis is usually associated with a great deal of bodily stress that is bound to have a major impact on many psychological process including immune supervision of cancerous cells," he said.

Probable Reason For Increased Cancer Risk In Anxious Men

Scientists feel that the reasons for the findings of their study may be manifold.
  • Women may probably recognize and seek treatment much earlier for signs and symptoms of anxiety, whereas men delay seeking therapy or do not go for treatment at all.
  • Men may be more likely to self-medicate or seek refuge in smoking, and alcohol, both of which are known risk factors for the development of cancer.
  • Even if women developed cancer, they probably sought early treatment, making it easier to treat and reducing the risk of cancer-related death.

About Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive and constant worrying that is difficult to control, and causes serious distress or impairment, occurring on most days for a minimum of six months.

There are different types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are a form of mental illness that may cause intense distress, and interfere with one's ability to lead a normal productive life.

Epidemiologic research on representative samples in the United States has found a lifetime prevalence of GAD of 5.1 percent to 11.9 percent. A review of epidemiological studies in Europe revealed a 12-month prevalence of 1.7 to 3.4 percent, and a lifetime prevalence of 4.3 to 5.9 percent.

Symptoms of GAD include:
  • Restlessness and being irritable
  • Becoming easily tired
  • Difficulty concentrating or feeling that the mind goes blank
  • Tense and taut muscles
  • Inability to control the worry
  • Sleep problems (difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless, unsatisfying sleep)
Recent research has shown that anxiety disorders may occur due to a variety of factors such as changes in the brain, genetic factors and environmental stress.

Present treatment options available for anxiety disorders include psychotherapy, medications or a combination of both.

Lessons To Be Learnt From The Findings Of The Study

It is predicted that one out of every two people born after 1960 in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime, according to Cancer Research UK.

Dr. Olivia feels that anxiety disorders need to be given more importance, and viewed as a serious health risk by clinicians, policy makers and researchers globally, given its prevalence and substantial health risks such as cancer associated with it.

At present, anxiety is regarded as a personality disorder, and treated as such. This should change and anxiety be considered as a warning sign of probable ill health in the future.

It would be fitting to conclude with Professor Nutt's observation on the importance that needs to be given to anxiety disorders,

'As the authors point out other factors such as self-medication with tobacco and alcohol are also likely to be involved [ in cancer deaths]. I fully support the authors' statement that much more information and investment need to be given to the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders'.

Living With Anxiety

The following suggestions may help in reducing anxiety and coping with it better. These can also be employed by people who don't suffer from anxiety, as a preventive measure.
  • Seeking professional help sooner than later
  • Finding reasons to laugh / smile more!!
  • Meditation / breathing techniques
  • Going for a walk
  • Seeking social support amongst friends and relatives
  • Volunteering at NGO's or other organizations
  • Getting enough sleep and adequate nutrition
  • Reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • Having realistic goals
  • Being kind to oneself and not aiming to be perfect
  • Challenging and quelling anxious and negative thoughts
  • Developing skills and tools to overcome anxious thoughts and situations
References :
  1. Anxiety Disorders - (
Source: Medindia

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