Association of Mental Health Treatment With Outcomes for US Veterans Diagnosed With Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

JAMA Oncol. 2020 Jul 1;6(7):1055-1062. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.1466.


Importance: Preexisting mental health disorders (MHDs) are associated with increased mortality in people diagnosed with cancer, yet few data exist on the efficacy of interventions to mitigate this disparity.

Objective: To evaluate the association of participation in mental health treatment programs (MHTPs), housing support programs, or employment support programs with stage at cancer diagnosis, receipt of stage-appropriate treatment, and mortality among patients with a preexisting MHD.

Design, setting, and participants: This retrospective, population-based cohort study included 55 315 veterans in the Veterans Affairs Central Cancer Registry (VACCR) who had newly diagnosed non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) from September 30, 2000, to December 31, 2011. Data were analyzed from January 15, 2017, to March 17, 2020.

Exposures: Mental health disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorder.

Main outcomes and measures: Stage at cancer diagnosis, receipt of stage-appropriate cancer treatment, all-cause mortality, and lung cancer-specific mortality.

Results: Of 55 315 veterans with a new diagnosis of NSCLC included in the analysis (98.1% men; mean [SD] age, 68.1 [9.8] years), 18 229 had a preexisting MHD, among whom participation in MHTPs was associated with a lower likelihood of being diagnosed in a late stage (odds ratio [OR], 0.62; 95% CI, 0.58-0.66; P < .001), a higher likelihood of receiving stage-appropriate treatment (OR, 1.55; 95% CI, 1.26-1.89; P < .001), lower all-cause mortality (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR], 0.74; 95% CI, 0.72-0.77; P < .001), and lower lung cancer-specific mortality (AHR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.74-0.80; P < .001). Likewise, participation in housing and employment support programs was associated with similar improvements in all outcomes described above.

Conclusions and relevance: In veterans with preexisting MHDs diagnosed with NSCLC, participation in MHTPs and housing and employment support programs was associated with improved lung cancer-related outcomes. This study might be the first to demonstrate significant improvement in cancer mortality for patients with MHDs who participate in MHTPs, housing support programs, or employment support programs. 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 MHDs who are diagnosed with cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / epidemiology*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology
  • Employment
  • Female
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Mental Health
  • Mental Health Services
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Social Support
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States
  • Veterans