Depression and anxiety in relation to cancer incidence and mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies

Mol Psychiatry. 2020 Jul;25(7):1487-1499. doi: 10.1038/s41380-019-0595-x. Epub 2019 Nov 19.


The link between depression and anxiety status and cancer outcomes has been well-documented but remains unclear. We comprehensively quantified the association between depression and anxiety defined by symptom scales or clinical diagnosis and the risk of cancer incidence, cancer-specific mortality, and all-cause mortality in cancer patients. Pooled estimates of the relative risks (RRs) for cancer incidence and mortality were performed in a meta-analysis by random effects or fixed effects models as appropriate. Associations were tested in subgroups stratified by different study and participant characteristics. Fifty-one eligible cohort studies involving 2,611,907 participants with a mean follow-up period of 10.3 years were identified. Overall, depression and anxiety were associated with a significantly increased risk of cancer incidence (adjusted RR: 1.13, 95% CI: 1.06-1.19), cancer-specific mortality (1.21, 1.16-1.26), and all-cause mortality in cancer patients (1.24, 1.13-1.35). The estimated absolute risk increases (ARIs) associated with depression and anxiety were 34.3 events/100,000 person years (15.8-50.2) for cancer incidence and 28.2 events/100,000 person years (21.5-34.9) for cancer-specific mortality. Subgroup analyses demonstrated that clinically diagnosed depression and anxiety were related to higher cancer incidence, poorer cancer survival, and higher cancer-specific mortality. Psychological distress (symptoms of depression and anxiety) was related to higher cancer-specific mortality and poorer cancer survival but not to increased cancer incidence. Site-specific analyses indicated that overall, depression and anxiety were associated with an increased incidence risks for cancers of the lung, oral cavity, prostate and skin, a higher cancer-specific mortality risk for cancers of the lung, bladder, breast, colorectum, hematopoietic system, kidney and prostate, and an increased all-cause mortality risk in lung cancer patients. These analyses suggest that depression and anxiety may have an etiologic role and prognostic impact on cancer, although there is potential reverse causality; Furthermore, there was substantial heterogeneity among the included studies, and the results should be interpreted with caution. Early detection and effective intervention of depression and anxiety in cancer patients and the general population have public health and clinical importance.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / mortality*