Mental Health Treatment May Improve Cancer Outcomes


Veterans with newly diagnosed lung cancer who had mental health disorders tended to have better cancer outcomes if they participated in mental health treatment.

Oncology nurses treating patients with pre-existing mental health disorders may want to encourage patients to seek help.

A recent study published in JAMA Oncology found that veterans diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who had mental health disorders had better cancer outcomes when they participated in mental health treatment and housing or employment support programs.

The retrospective, population-based cohort study included 55,315 veterans who were newly diagnosed with NSLC between September 30, 2000 and December 31, 2011. Data about the patients were analyzed from January 15, 2017 to March 17, 2020.

A total of 18,229 patients involved in the study had a pre-existing mental health disorder, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorder.

Among these patients, those who had mental health treatment had a statistically significantly lower likelihood of being diagnosed at a later stage; higher likelihood of receiving stage-appropriate treatment; lower all-cause mortality; and lower lung cancer-specific mortality.

“Likewise, participation in housing and employment support programs was associated with similar improvements in all outcomes described above,” the researchers wrote.

While many clinicians are aware of the benefit of mental health help, this may be one of the first studies that clearly demonstrates its impact on cancer outcomes, according to the researchers.

However, they did note that more work still needs to be done.

“This work supports substantial literature that investment in mental health and social needs can improve health outcomes and highlights the importance of further research to identify, evaluate, and implement interventions to improve outcomes for patients with [mental health disorders] who are diagnosed with cancer,” they wrote.


Berchuck JE, Meyer CS, Zhang N, et. al. Association of Mental Health Treatment With Outcomes for US Veterans Diagnosed With Non—Small Cell Lung Cancer. JAMA Oncol. 2020;6(7):1055-1062. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.1466

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