Physical comorbidities as a marker for high risk of psychological distress in cancer patients



Dafina Petrova, Daniel Redondo Sánchez, Miguel Rodríguez Barranco, Antonio Romero Ruiz, Andrés Catena, Rocio Garcia-Retamero, María-José Sánchez.


Physical and psychiatric comorbidities are common in cancer patients and could impact their treatment and prognosis. However, the evidence base regarding the influence of comorbidities in the management and health service use of patients is still scant. In this research we investigated how physical comorbidities are related to the mental health and help-seeking of cancer patients.

Data were obtained from the representative National Health Survey of Spain (2017). Participants were respondents who reported a cancer diagnosis (n = 484). These were also matched with controls without cancer history (n = 484) based on age, gender, and region. Four alternative physical comorbidities indices were created based on information regarding 28 chronic conditions. Outcomes of interest were psychological distress and having consulted a mental healthcare professional in the year before the survey.

Thirty percent of cancer patients reported significant psychological distress but only 10% had consulted a professional. After adjusting for sociodemographic variables, among cancer patients each additional comorbidity was associated with 9% higher odds of reporting high psychological distress (odds ratio [OR] = 1.09, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.01–1.16) and 21% higher odds of having consulted a mental healthcare professional (OR = 1.21, 95% CI: 1.09–1.34). The effects of comorbidities depended on the type of index and were different in controls without cancer history.

Physical comorbidities in cancer patients are associated with higher risk of psychological distress and higher demand for mental health services. We encourage further research on this issue as it could improve mental health screening and management in oncologic care.

Posted on:
February 17, 2021
2 minute read, 275 words
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