Cancer History Linked to 58% Increase in Depression

by Dan Witters

Cancer's physical and mental toll greatest among young adults

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index data underscore the extent to which cancer relates to emotional and physical pain. Americans who report having been diagnosed with cancer experience depression and daily physical pain at a rate approaching two-thirds greater than what is found among the general population.


The higher rates of depression and physical pain found among those who have a cancer diagnosis hold within every age group. However, young adults, those aged 18 to 29, appear to be the hardest hit by the side effects cancer, with a 249% increase in depression and a 139% increase in daily physical pain among those with a cancer diagnosis relative to those without. Seniors with cancer, in contrast, are 25% more likely to be diagnosed with depression and 21% more likely to experience daily physical pain than those without


These results are consistent with previous Gallup findings that examined the relationship between cancer and decreased life evaluation across age groups.


The measured links between cancer and physical pain do not necessarily imply that one directly causes the other, but can instead simply reflect shared experiences associated with each. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, for example, can all lead to painful side effects. Direct cancer pain that is independent of treatment, however, is also common, as growing tumors apply pressure on bones, nerves, or other tissues in the body and can result in physical pain.

Depression, in contrast, has long been observed in some cancer patients as fear of death, financial and end-of-life concerns, changes in body image and self-esteem, and changes in lifestyle can all be altered in cancer's presence. The sharp increase in depression among those diagnosed with cancer, particularly for adults younger than 45, suggests a greater need for addressing this emotional health issue for these higher risk groups. Each of these scenarios may potentially have more of an impact on young adults simply due to a greater expectation of not being diagnosed with cancer at such a young age.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index does not determine the type of cancer that respondents have been diagnosed with.

For ongoing monthly Well-Being Index results, read the Gallup-Healthways Monthly U.S. Well-Being Report.

Learn more about the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with more than 350,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted between Jan. 2-Dec. 30, 2008, and Jan. 2-Dec. 29, 2009. For most results in this article, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum expected sampling error is no more than ±1.0 percentage point.


Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only and cell phone mostly).

The relevant survey question asked respondents:

"Have you ever been told by a physician or nurse that you have any of the following, or not? How about [in rotation]: cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart attack, depression."

"Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about physical pain?"

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index™

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index measures the daily pulse of U.S. wellbeing and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.

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