Study: Current, Former Cancer Patients Above Age 50 Have Positive Mental Outlook

Majority of older patients with cancer and those who survived the disease found to have high levels of social and psychological wellbeing.

Older patients who either survived cancer or who are currently undergoing treatment have a healthy mental outlook and happiness level, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

The researchers found that two-thirds of patients currently being treated for cancer aged 50 years and over and more than three-quarters of patients 50 years of age and above who survived the disease have a healthy mental outlook. These findings regarding an overall healthy mental wellbeing among current and former patients with cancer were better than what the study authors anticipated.

"Two-thirds met our very stringent criteria for 'complete mental health' which meant that they were happy and/or satisfied with their life on a daily or almost daily basis and they also reported very high levels of social and psychological wellbeing, eg, having warm and trusting relationships with others, and reporting that their life has a sense of direction or meaning,” lead study author Esme Fuller-Thomson, director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging at the University of Toronto, said in a press release. “Only those who were also free of mental illness including depression and anxiety disorders and without any substance dependence or suicidal thoughts in the past year were classified as being in complete mental health.”

The study used data from Statistics Canada's 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health, which included a nationally representative sample of Canadians aged 50 years and above with current cancer (n=438), previous cancer (n=1174), and no history of the disease (n=9279). The researchers said their findings are correlational and cannot be used to determine causality due to the cross-sectional and observational nature of the data.

The authors said that monitoring the mental health status of patients undergoing treatment or who survived cancer may help to identify individuals in need of intervention to address their psychosocial well-being to optimize treatment.

"Among those with former or current cancer, the odds of complete mental health were higher for women, white, married, and older respondents, as well as those with higher income and those who did not have disabling pain nor functional limitations,” study co-author Keri West, PhD student at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, said in the press release. “We found that earlier difficulties cast a long shadow: those who had been physically abused during their childhood and those who had ever had depression or anxiety disorders were less likely to be in complete mental health."

The study authors concluded that additional longitudinal research is needed to gain a better understanding of the pathways that could improve resilience and recovery among patients with cancer.

"These findings of incredible mental flourishing even in the context of cancer is a wonderful testament to the resiliency of patients and an encouraging message for patients, their families and their health care providers" Fuller-Thomson said.