Childhood Trauma Linked To Higher Anxiety, Depression Risk in Head and Neck Cancer Patients

Childhood Trauma Linked To Higher Anxiety, Depression Risk in Head and Neck Cancer Patients

by Dr. Lakshmi Venkataraman on Aug 6 2018 3:29 PM
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  • Head and neck cancer patients who underwent childhood trauma are more likely to have mental health issues such as anxiety and depression and continued smoking and alcohol use
  • Head and neck cancer is the sixth leading type of cancer worldwide; more than half a million cases are diagnosed each year and nearly half of them die
  • Mental health issues of head and neck cancer patients have to be treated to improve overall patient prognosis
Patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer who had suffered traumatic childhood experiences such as abuse and neglect are more likely to have mental health issues such as anxiety and depression as well as continuing smoking and alcohol use (which are known risk factors for head and neck cancer), according to a recent study.
The above mentioned mental health issues may affect the ability of the patient to stick to his treatment schedule and hence, it is necessary to address these issues during treatment to improve the outcome for the patient.

The findings of the above study appear online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

Early Life Trauma in Head and Neck Cancer Patients

The study was conducted by a team of scientists led by Daniel Bernabé, Ph.D., of São Paulo State University, in Brazil. The aim of the study was
The team analyzed data of about 110 patients after they were diagnosed with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma and before they began treatment.

Incidence of Mental Health Issues in HNC Patients Who Suffered Childhood Trauma

The key findings of the study included the following
  • 95.5 percent (105/110 patients) had experienced some form of childhood trauma. The various types of trauma encountered were as follows
    • Emotional neglect (43.8 percent)
    • Physical child abuse (30.5 percent)
    • Emotional child abuse (15.2 percent)and
    • Physical child neglect (8.6 percent)
    • Sexual abuse (1.9 percent)
  • Emotional neglect (lack of emotional support such as ignoring child's feelings and difficulties and not being there for the child) was associated with an increased incidence of an advanced stage of cancer at diagnosis and higher alcohol consumption
  • Childhood physical neglect (lack of necessary physical care such as proper diet so that physical health is affected) was associated with higher anxiety levels
  • Patients with increased levels of traumatic events in childhood had an almost 12-times greater chance of having increased depression before starting cancer therapy
The findings of the study suggest that early childhood trauma in HNC patients may be associated with advanced cancer stage at diagnosis, mental health issues (anxiety and depression) and smoking and alcohol abuse which may interfere with treatment and patient outcome.

Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancer comprises cancers of the mouth, salivary glands, throat, nose, sinuses and lymph nodes in the neck region. Signs and symptoms of head and neck cancer include
  • A lump or sore that does not go away in any of these locations
  • Sore throat that does not respond to antibiotics
  • Difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Persistent cough
  • Hoarseness of voice or a recent change in voice
Head and neck cancers are more common in men and tobacco or alcohol use increases HNC risk. In addition, infection with human papilloma virus is a risk factor for certain types of head and neck cancers

Treatments include a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The prognosis in early head and neck cancers is good with treatment. Advanced cancer stage at diagnosis is associated with poor patient outcome.

In summary as per Dr Bernabé’s words, "Assessing traumatic events experienced in childhood may be of great value in understanding neuropsychological mechanisms related to alcohol abuse and anxiety and depression symptoms in patients with cancer. Therefore, the life history of the cancer patient, including their traumatic memories and derived feelings should be considered by the health team during the treatment of cancer patients."

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