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Do anxiety and depression affect our risk of cancer?
An international research project used Ontario Health Study data to investigate possible links between depression, anxiety and certain cancers.

An international research project used Ontario Health Study data to investigate possible links between depression, anxiety and certain cancers.

Living with depression and anxiety has been thought to put people at a higher risk for certain cancers. New research from a large international study, which includes data from thousands of Ontario Health Study (OHS) participants, is showing otherwise.

In a recent paper published in the journal Cancer, the PSY-CA (PSYchosocial factors and CAncer incidence) project failed to demonstrate an association between depression and anxiety and breast, prostate, colorectal, and alcohol-related cancers, or cancers overall. However, it did find an association of depression and anxiety (both symptoms and diagnoses) with the incidence of lung cancer and smoking-related cancers. The paper noted that those associations were substantially reduced when adjusted for the presence of other known risk factors for lung cancers, such as smoking, alcohol use, and body mass index.

The PSY-CA Consortium is examining data from 18 study populations in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Norway and Canada. Using information from cancer registries, this meta-analysis (a statistical analysis of multiple studies) looked at data collected from more than 300,000 adults to explore the relationship between specific psychosocial factors and a cancer diagnosis.

Dr. David Soave

Dr. David Soave of Wilfrid Laurier University led the OHS-related analysis for the PSY-CA project. He looked at data from 14,384 OHS participants. Other researchers looked at data from participants in two sister cohorts of the OHS, Atlantic PATH and CARTaGENE in Quebec.

He indicated the Ontario Health Study cohort of participants was well suited for the international project, as there was a substantial amount of information available on psychosocial factors that could be linked to known cancer diagnoses in the OHS study population.

OHS, which is hosted by OICR, is an ongoing research study involving more than 225,000 Ontario residents who are making their personal health information available to researchers.

The psychosocial factors explored in the study were:

  • Diagnosed depression
  • Diagnosed anxiety disorder and anxiety symptoms
  • Recent loss of a close family member or partner
  • Perceived low social support
  • Relationship status
  • General distress
  • Neuroticism

What should people take away from the study?

“Our results may be informative to many patients with cancer who believe their diagnosis is attributed to previous anxiety or depression,” said Soave.

He noted further research is still needed to understand how depression, anxiety, health behaviours and lung cancer are related. 


This article was written by the Ontario Health Study and shared with permission. The original article is published at