The damaging effects of asbestos exposure don’t only impinge on a person’s physical health. Victims of asbestos-related illnesses suffer psychologically, as well. In this exclusive ongoing series, we’ll shed some light on that other side of terminal illness by examining the impact of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases on mental and emotional health-not just for patients but for their loved ones as well.
Some of the topics we’ll cover include: psychiatric conditions common to victims of mesothelioma cancer and other related conditions, how to share news of a terminal diagnosis with loved ones, coping with grief and loss, types and stages of the bereavement process, self-help techniques for managing mental health during treatment and more.
Mesothelioma and Mental Health – PART TWO
Those already affected by the psychological effects of cancer may experience exacerbated-or even entirely new-symptoms while undergoing treatment for mesothelioma. Two of the three predominant modalities prescribed for meso and other related cancers-radiation and chemotherapy-have potentially serious side effects that can affect both the mind and body alike.
Psychological Effects Related to Chemotherapy
Often referred to as “chemo brain”, the mental faculties and overall emotional state of patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment for mesothelioma are often impaired to some degree and sometimes may be compromised to the point of serious debilitation. Though the cognitive effects of chemo are generally short-lived, for those suffering from mesothelioma with only months to live, they may never be fully overcome. According to the American Cancer Society, mental side effects of chemo are experienced in anywhere from 15 to 17 percent of all treatment recipients.
Patients commonly describe these effects as mental “fogginess” and may include symptoms such as:
- Frequent memory lapses
- Slowed and/or disorganized cognitive processing
- Reduced attention span
- Trouble with spatial orientation
- Difficulty multi-tasking
Additionally, patients reviving chemo to treat mesothelioma cancer may experience emotional side effects that can include mood swings, inappropriate anger or crying jags and irrational or socially inept behavior. Additionally, a patient’s risk of developing depression is increased during chemo and may be heightened by the use of certain medications commonly prescribed during treatment for mesothelioma. These can include any of the following drug groups: synthetic hormones, steroids, immunosuppressive agents, anticonvulsants and analgesics.
Psychological Effects Related to Radiation Therapy
Chemo is a relatively new mesothelioma treatment compared to radiation, which has a longer history of use in cancer patients. As such, many of the same side effects reported by those undergoing chemotherapy were associated with radiation already. Both depression and anxiety are common in patients during radiation treatments with the latter ranging from chronic feelings of worry to severe and debilitating phobias. The emotional side effects of radiation therapy are typically spurned or intensified by the chronic fatigue that is common in patients undergoing this form of treatment.