Anxiety and Cancer


Anxiety may also be known as uneasiness, nervousness, worry, or fear.

What is anxiety and how is it related to cancer and cancer treatments?

  • A disturbing feeling or sensation often experienced when facing overwhelming stress & uncertainty.
  • Anxiety can involve fear of the unknown (not knowing what to expect) or fear of the known (knowing what to expect).
  • Anxiety is experienced at some time by all human beings, but the cause is very different for each person.
  • Anxiety can be mild, moderate, or severe. Severe anxiety cause physical effects such as nausea, diarrhea, irritable bowel, and may even affect your immune system (lowering your resistance to illness). Severe anxiety may also have an effect your ability to think clearly, job performance, relationships, & daily activities.


Anxiety must include at least 3 of the following symptoms:

  • Excessive worry about several events or activities
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep changes (either being unable to sleep or sleeping more than usual)
  • Restlessness
  • Physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, palpitations, trembling, shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea, diarrhea, flushing, dizziness, or high blood pressure.
  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Physical complaints

Things you can do to manage cancer-induced anxiety:


  • What puts you at risk for anxiety?
  • Hereditary factors
  • History of anxiety or panic attacks
  • History of diabetes or hyperthyroidism
  • Living with a chronic disease like cancer
  • Overwhelming stress in your life
  • Effects of some medications & chemotherapy
  • Lack of information or control
  • Unrelieved physical symptoms (like pain)
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Any persistent change in your ability to handle stress
  • Anything that brings on anxiety or makes it worse
  • Anything that helps you relieve anxious feelings


  • Whenever possible, lower your risk (for example, avoid alcohol to relieve symptoms).
  • Find a technique that works for you to lower your anxiety & use it (like slow deep breathing, in & out, 15 times).
  • Follow your treatment plan & take your medications exactly as prescribed.
  • Your doctor may make a referral for you to see a counselor - to help you find ways to cope with your situation. Getting professional help for severe anxiety is just as important as taking your medications. Continuous or severe anxiety can affect your physical, mental, & emotional health.
  • Keep a diary or journal of how you are feeling once treatment is started. Let your health care professional know if your symptoms are getting better or worse.
  • Learn & practice new ways to handle the stress in your life.

Medications that your doctor may prescribe to minimize the effects of cancer-induced anxiety:

  • Lorazepam (Ativan®)
  • Diazepam (Valium®)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin®)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax®)
  • Chlorpromazine (Thorazine®)
  • Buspirone (BuSpar®)
  • Haloperidol (Haldol®)

When to contact your doctor or health care provider:

If you are experiencing anxiety due to cancer or chemotherapy treatments, the following guidelines suggest when to call your doctor or health care provider:

  • You have any questions about your treatment.
  • Your symptoms get worse or occur more often.
  • You have possible reactions to your anxiety medications. Reactions depend on many factors, including how your body responds to specific types of these medications. Some possible reactions can include:
  • Increased anxiety
  • Temporary amnesia
  • Drowsiness
  • Slow breathing
  • Cloudy thinking
  • Sedation
  • Rigid movements & speech
  • You are also feeling depressed.

Note: We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.

Related Side Effects

Anxiety has related side effects:

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