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Managing Anxiety in Cancer Patients

March 30, 2022

Anxiety is a natural response to this new reality when patients receive a cancer diagnosis. But managing anxiety in cancer patients may look different than dealing with anxiety in other patients. Patients undergoing screening for cancer, waiting for cancer test results, receiving a cancer diagnosis, and undergoing cancer treatment may need help managing anxiety.

Anxiety and Cancer

Some patients may have already experienced anxiety, and a new cancer diagnosis may cause those previously-managed symptoms to reoccur or intensify. While oncology rightfully focuses on alleviating and managing symptoms brought by necessary treatment, anxiety resulting from a cancer diagnosis and treatment is a significant concern for patients. But patient care that’s crafted specifically for dealing with anxiety as a cancer patient should begin by assessing the types of symptoms the patient is experiencing and their severity. Some suggested questions to determine the level of cancer anxiety symptoms are:

  • Since your last appointment, diagnosis or treatment, have you had any anxiety symptoms?
  • How frequently do you experience symptoms?
  • Are you shaky or jittery?
  • Are you tense or apprehensive?
  • Can you feel your heart pounding?
  • Have you noticed sweating or trouble catching your breath without any identifiable reason?
  • Do you find yourself pacing?
  • Is it difficult to close your eyes at night for fear of not waking up?
  • Have you avoided certain places or activities because of a feeling of fear?

Developing a Plan to Treat Cancer Anxiety

It’s not surprising that nearly half of all cancer patients report feelings of distress. Regardless of whether the feelings are directly related to the cancer diagnosis or in addition to the diagnosis, patient care should include anxiety support. Some of the most effective techniques to minimize anxiety revolve around giving the patient back some essence of control that a cancer diagnosis and treatment often take away.

Encourage Schedules 

Since emotional and physical exhaustion can result from oncology appointments and treatments surrounding a diagnosis, patients can feel increased anxiety when they try to fit too many things into their day. Encourage patients to use a schedule to plan for short and long-term treatments and expectations and manage daily personal activities to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Establish Resources 

Medical bills can add to anxiety in cancer patients. Connect them to appropriate resources like a financial advisor or social worker to help manage added stresses that financial strains can cause.

Stay Connected 

Emotional support is essential in addressing cancer anxiety symptoms. Encourage patients to stay connected with family and friends, even if virtually. Patients who can talk about their experiences can manage cancer anxiety better. Sometimes a close familial or friend relationship is challenging or unavailable. Pointing these patients toward resources like local cancer groups, religious counselors, or mental health professionals to talk about their experience in a relaxed setting can be offered to help reduce anxiety.


Patients that don’t want to learn or haven’t known enough about their current condition may feel an increase in anxiety. Provide simple, easy-to-understand materials and encourage patients to understand their situation to reduce anxiety about the unknown.

Anxiety Coping Mechanisms

A secondary part of helping cancer patients deal with their anxiety surrounding a cancer diagnosis and treatment is offering simple but effective anxiety coping mechanisms that can be used regularly. Managing anxiety is an ongoing concern for many patients throughout treatment and sometimes even after recovery. Simple coping mechanisms can be encouraged like:

  • Urging patients to create realistic expectations and schedules that consider current treatments and physical side effects in their “new normal.”
  • Fostering participation in meditation to calm and clear the mind from anxious thoughts.
  • Inspiring patients to develop a regular physical activity routine. Light activity like walking or biking can reduce anxiety and improve mood. The physical exertion of any capacity can produce endorphins to elevate mood and decrease minor pains, both highly beneficial outcomes for patients with anxiety and cancer.

Relaxation Techniques

  • Guided imagery can help patients mentally walk through scenarios and think about how they will cope with stressful or anxious moments.
  • Point patients toward music therapy that can be used throughout many cancer treatment stages, anytime anxiety are present or before a potentially anxiety-producing situation.
  • Provide resources for acupressure techniques that can be self-administered when the attending medical professional or team is cleared.
  • Equip patients with suggestions for regular relaxing activities to minimize stress and anxiety during cancer treatment and recovery, like deep breathing exercises, light yoga, warm baths, and time spent relaxing outside.

About Nashville Oncology

Nashville Oncology offers a wide range of comprehensive cancer services, including advanced technological options, premier clinical expertise, and cutting-edge clinical trials. Our trusted providers offer the best quality care while maintaining a level of professionalism that empowers our patients.