Health Issue 1 leah andritsch

Anxiety Lingers Long After Cancer

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The onset of depression in people who have received the diagnosis of cancer as well as the spouses who support them is far too common. Once the journey of treatment is over and the patient is free to reside in recovery, the possibility of illness is not over. The prevalence of depression is then replaced by an onset of anxiety. In a study by Mitchell, Ferguson, Gill, Paul, and Symonds (2013) cited by the New York Times reports on the findings of increased anxiety in outpatient cancer survivors and their spouses. The New York Times article states: “the analysis, which looked at 43 studies involving 51,381 patients with a range of cancers, found that over all, nearly 18 percent of patients experienced serious anxiety two to 10 years after their diagnosis, compared with about 14 percent of the general population. But in a cluster of studies that looked at couples, anxiety levels in that time frame grew to as high as 28 percent in patients and 40 percent in their spouses.” The study’s lead author, Dr. Alex J. Mitchell, remarks to the New York Times, “anxiety is a persistent problem long after the cancer has been diagnosed.” Patients may experience anxiety due to the frequent check ups and possibility that they might be diagnosed with cancer again. Due to the nature of the disease, there is no guarantee of cancer-free survival. For the loved one, the anxiety can stem from the pending possibilities of reoccurrence but also from the feeling of lack of control to help their loved one and the transition from equal partner to care-giver.

The use of arts in medicine could be a valuable tool to help relieve the stress of anxiety in recovering cancer patients and their spouses or caregivers. From my own experience of working with cancer patients, when participating in an art project I see first hand the positive affect the activity can have on a person’s mood. Though these patients are in the process of receiving treatment, I believe the effects would foster similar if not the same effects on someone’s mood that is in recovery but dealing with anxiety about their disease. The effects of anxiety and depression know no timeframe.

Art can be used as a tool to understanding the internal thoughts or emotions that contribute to anxiety. Sukhanova (2013) states: “in producing art, the artist interacts with his or her internalized objects. The creative act can thus become a therapeutic tool, extending from verbal experiences into nonverbal and pre-verbal experiences across all stages of psychological development.” This is further evidenced by the impact that art can create on a seemingly different situation but one, nonetheless, of stress.

A study conducted by Sandmire, Gorham, Rankin, and Grimm (2012) examined the influence of art on anxiety in college students the week before final exams. For the pre- and post–art-making testing, participants were required to complete the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) Form. The students participated in art activities that included: Mandala Design, Painting Free Form, Collage Making, Clay Sculpting, or Drawing. The students were given simple instructions to guide them on the activities and were also provided an example to inspire them. The study does not clarify if there was instruction or direction done by a therapist to lead them in the activity as would in an Art Therapy session. After the given period, they students completed the STAI test. The researchers discovered that the period of art making significantly reduced the students’ state of anxiety. The scenario of impending finals week could mimic the anxiety felt by a patient with an upcoming appointment and the brief period of art making could be utilized as a tool to relieve the anxiety.


Mitchell, A. J., Ferguson, D. W., Gill, J., Paul, J., & Symonds, P. (2013). Depression and anxiety in long-term cancer survivors compared with spouses and healthy controls: a systematic review and meta-analysis. LANCET ONCOLOGY, 14(8), 721-732. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70244-4

Sandmire, D. A., Gorham, S. R., Rankin, N. E., & Grimm, D. R. (2012). The Influence of Art Making on Anxiety: A Pilot Study. Art Therapy, 29(2), 68-73. doi:10.1080/07421656.2012.683748

Sukhanova, E. (2013, 2013/03//). Psychiatry and art: a means for healing and fighting stigma. Psychiatric Times, 30, 22.

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