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Cancer. 2005 Dec 15;104(12):2872-81.

Psychiatric disorders and mental health service use in patients with advanced cancer: a report from the coping with cancer study.

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Department of Pediatrics, Section of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.



Psychological morbidity has been proposed as a source of distress in cancer patients. This study aimed to: 1) determine the prevalence of diagnosable psychiatric illnesses, and 2) describe the mental health services received and predictors of service utilization in patients with advanced cancer.


This was a cross-sectional, multi-institutional study of 251 eligible patients with advanced cancer. Eligibility included: distant metastases, primary therapy failure, nonpaid caregiver, age > or =20 years, stamina for the interview, English or Spanish-speaking, and adequate cognitive ability. Trained interviewers administered the Structured Clinical Interview for the Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV (DSM-IV) modules for Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a detailed questionnaire regarding mental health service utilization.


Overall, 12% met criteria for a major psychiatric condition and 28% had accessed a mental health intervention for a psychiatric illness since the cancer diagnosis. Seventeen percent had discussions with a mental health professional; 90% were willing to receive treatment for emotional problems. Mental health services were not accessed by 55% of patients with major psychiatric disorders. Cancer patients who had discussed psychological concerns with mental health staff (odds ratio [OR] = 19.2; 95% confidence interval [95% CI], 8.90-41.50) and non-Hispanic white patients (OR = 2.7; 95% CI, 1.01-7.43) were more likely to receive mental health services in adjusted analysis.


Advanced cancer patients experience major psychiatric disorders at a prevalence similar to the general population, but affected individuals have a low rate of utilizing mental health services. Oncology providers can enhance utilization of mental health services, and potentially improve clinical outcomes, by discussing mental health concerns with their patients.

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