Cancer takes a heavy toll on a person's physical health. Cancer survivors are often aware that they need to do regular checkups and follow-ups to assess their physical health. However, the psychological burden associated with cancer is often underrated.

A new study has found that young cancer survivors are at an increased risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS Medicine) conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to understand the psychological outcomes and deaths by suicide in over 20,000 child, adolescent and young adult cancer patients (CYAC) and survivors.

"This systematic review and meta-analysis including 52 studies found CYACs to experience an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and psychotic disorders after cancer remission compared with siblings and noncancer-matched controls," the researchers said.

The team found the risk of developing depression and anxiety was particularly higher in cohorts above the ages of 30 and 25. The study also suggests that cancer survivors who received the diagnosis in their older adolescent years, between 15 to 19 years old, were at increased risk of death by suicide.

"Receiving a diagnosis of cancer, going through treatment and trying to survive cancer, is altogether a challenging process for cancer patients, and even survivors. For adolescents and young adults, this process often means a loss of opportunities in life, as they miss out on education, and social interactions, which are critical formative experiences in their years of growing up. In addition, they have to cope with changes in their appearance, dietary habits and lifestyles, all of which can be especially difficult adjustments to make, at the age where most of their peers seem to enjoy the freedom to explore these areas of life," Cyrus Ho, who led the research, said in a news release.

Ways to support cancer survivors

If you know anyone who has survived cancer, you need to understand that their battle does not end with the success of the treatment. Many patients suffer from fatigue, pain, insomnia and memory loss as side effects of the treatment. Moreover, the emotional turmoil from the diagnosis, the treatment and the fear of cancer recurrence put their mental health at risk.

Here is how you can help them:

  • Listen to their fears
  • Help them to connect with survivors like them
  • Ensure that they go for their follow-up appointments
  • Get them engaged in activities that will keep them busy
  • Watch out for warning signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder