Longitudinal study indicating antecedent psychosocial vulnerability as predictor of anxiety disorders post-treatment in people with head and neck cancer

Psychooncology. 2021 Nov;30(11):1910-1919. doi: 10.1002/pon.5760. Epub 2021 Jul 14.


Objective: This study aimed to: (1) determine the contribution of pre-cancer psychosocial vulnerability as an independent predictor of anxiety disorder (AD) onset immediately post-treatment in patients diagnosed with a first occurrence of head and neck cancer (HNC), controlling for sociodemographics and medical variables; and (2) estimate prevalence of AD and identify trajectories from the moment of diagnosis to the immediate post-treatment (i.e., over a period of 3 months) in this population.

Methods: Two-hundred twenty-four consecutive patients (participation rate = 72%) newly diagnosed with a primary HNC were assessed with a structured clinical interview for a mental disorder, validated psychometric measures, and medical chart reviews.

Results: Twenty-five percent of patients presented a lifetime AD, 19.4% within 2 weeks of HNC diagnosis, and 16.6% immediately post-treatment; representing 26.7% of patients with AD at any timepoint from the moment of diagnosis to immediately post-treatment. Patients were more likely to present an AD immediately post-treatment when they: were diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer (OR = 3.40, p = 0.006), presented a upon cancer diagnosis AD (OR = 2.45, p = 0.008) and/or experienced childhood abuse (OR = 1.96, p = 0.03).

Conclusions: Several AD trajectories may arise when patients are diagnosed with primary HNC. Health professionals should address AD and screen for risk factors (i.e., advanced stage cancer, AD upon cancer diagnosis, history of childhood abuse) as early as possible to assure optimal mental health care in this vulnerable population.

Keywords: anxiety disorder; cancer; early detection; head and neck cancer; mental health; oncology; prevention; psycho-oncology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Prevalence