Cancer patients may lower their expectations

Being diagnosed with a serious disease like cancer may inspire patients to sharply redefine their goals and roles in order maintain a sense of life satisfaction, suggest the results of a study.

These findings may help explain previous research that cancer patients are not significantly more anxious and are only slightly more depressed than the general population.

Few studies have investigated the relatively low levels of anxiety and depression experienced by this patient group in spite of the potential severity of their disease, says lead study author Karin Nordin, Ph.D., of Uppsala University in Sweden.

Nordin and colleagues analyzed three groups of study participants. The first consisted of 52 gastrointestinal cancer patients who were considered potentially cured, since all known tumor tissue was removed during surgery; the second consisted of 33 patients suffering from advanced gastrointestinal cancer; the third group consisted of 26 spouses of the patients with advanced disease.

In questionnaires both immediately after diagnosis and a month or more afterward, the study participants were asked to rate the importance of life values and their level of attainment of these values which included serenity, positive relationships, independence, involvement in hobbies or community activities, ability to communicate, financial security, religion and health. Anxiety and depression levels of participants were also measured.

The study results are published in the current issue of the journal Psycho-Oncology.

Anxiety and depression decreased over time for the two patient groups, the researchers found. Why this occurred may relate to another study finding: the gap between patients' values and their perceived achievement level of those values also shrank. In other words, patients tended to lower their expectations to match reality.

Large discrepancies between the perceived attainment and importance of life values

Contact: Karin Nordin, Ph.D.
Center for the Advancement of Health

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