Cancer-related health worries and psychological distress among older adult, long-term cancer survivors



While long-term survivors (5 years+) do not face the stressors of diagnosis and treatment, they continue to face the uncertainties that survivorship brings: recurrence, other cancers, late effects of treatment, and the potential of a shortened life expectancy. This research focuses on the cancer-related health worries of older adult, long-term cancer survivors, the factors that predict these worries, and their link to traditional measures of psychological distress. Specifically, a model is proposed that identifies the personal (including race and gender) and illness/treatment characteristics of survivors that are significantly associated with cancer-related health worries and their effects on anxiety and depression. Descriptive and multivariate analyses of a random sample of 321 long-term survivors in a major cancer center tumor registry are used to address these issues. About one-third of survivors continue to report worries about recurrence, worries about a second cancer, and worries that symptoms they experience may be from cancer. The regression analyses show that cancer-related health worries is a significant predictor of both depression (beta=0.36) and anxiety (beta=0.21). Race is a significant predictor; being African American is related to fewer cancer-related health worries (beta=−0.22). Having more symptoms during treatment is also a predictor of having more cancer-related health worries (beta=0.20). The most consistent predictor of psychosocial distress is dispositional optimism/pessimism, with more optimistic individuals reporting fewer cancer-related health worries (beta=−0.27), lower levels of both anxiety (beta=−0.16) and depression (beta=−0.23). Overall, for many older adult, long-term survivors, the legacy of cancer continues in terms of cancer-related health worries. In spite of these, for most survivors, their quality of life is not dramatically compromised either physically or psychologically. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.