Patients with Lung Cancer Coped with COVID-19 Pandemic Better Than Peers

All the participants were in the Beating Lung Cancer in Ohio study, which started before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patients with lung cancer showed lower levels of depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with their healthy peers, according to a study from Ohio State University.

The study found that more than twice as many healthy people met the criteria for clinical levels of anxiety and depression at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as did patients with lung cancer.

“We were astounded at how resilient these lung cancer patients were in coping with the threat of COVID-19, given they were already under very difficult health circumstances,” said study co-author Barbara Andersen, professor of psychology at The Ohio State University, in a press release. “That’s not to say lung cancer patients were unfazed by the pandemic—they did show concern. But they seemed better able to handle the stress than similar people without cancer.”

Previous studies have shown that patients with lung cancer have the highest levels of emotional distress overall among patients with different cancer types, with the greatest prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders, according to the authors of the current study.

“It would have been easy to assume that COVID-19 would add further stress to these patients,” Andersen said in a press release.

For the current study, the researchers evaluated data from 76 patients with advanced-stage non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for 85% of all lung cancer cases. All the participants were in the Beating Lung Cancer in Ohio study, which started before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each participant completed surveys regarding their psychological health when they were diagnosed at least 1 year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which followed with the completion of similar surveys with additional questions about COVID-19 between April and July 2020. The patients with lung cancer were compared with a control group of 67 similar people who had not been diagnosed with cancer, who were older adults from Ohio and who were current or former smokers with comparable education and income levels, according to the study.

Patients with lung cancer were found to have lower levels of anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic than when they were diagnosed, according to Andersen. Additionally, these patients felt better than their peers without cancer when evaluated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 12% of patients with lung cancer had high enough levels of depression to be diagnosed as clinically depressed compared with the 28% of the control group.

Overall, compared to the control groups without cancer, patients with lung cancer showed significantly less stress about COVID-19, less worry about their family contracting the virus, and greater success with social distancing. Patients with lung cancer did have moderate concern about their illness, whereas the control group indicated concerns about their overall health.

“For these patients, COVID occurred in the midst of an ongoing life-threatening disease, cancer-related symptoms, and routines already disrupted by receiving treatment. The pandemic was just another challenge to overcome,” Andersen said in the press release. “But for the group without chronic conditions, COVID was an unexpected source of stress and made them worry about their health in a way they weren’t used to.”

Andersen added that the results do not mean that depression and anxiety are not an issue for patients with lung cancer.She highlighted how many patients are at risk, therefore physicians and other clinicians should continue to screen for these problems and refer patients who need it for psychological treatment.

“It is a message of strength and resilience, of being able to persevere despite all the challenges. These lung cancer patients showed incredible toughness during COVID and went about what they had to do and continued their treatment, despite their very difficult disease,” Andersen said in the press release.

REFERENCE

Lung cancer patients coped with pandemic better than many peers. February 9, 2022. Accessed February 10, 2022. Ohio State News. https://news.osu.edu/lung-cancer-patients-coped-with-pandemic-better-than-many-peers/