Our 24/7 cancer helpline provides information and answers for people dealing with cancer. We can connect you with trained cancer information specialists who will answer questions about a cancer diagnosis and provide guidance and a compassionate ear.
Our highly trained specialists are available 24/7 via phone and on weekdays can assist through video calls and online chat. We connect patients, caregivers, and family members with essential services and resources at every step of their cancer journey. Ask us how you can get involved and support the fight against cancer. Some of the topics we can assist with include:
For medical questions, we encourage you to review our information with your doctor.
The word distress has many meanings. Distress is an unpleasant emotion, feeling, thought, condition, or behavior.
Distress can affect the way you think, feel, or act, and can make it hard to cope with having cancer, along with dealing with symptoms, treatment, and side effects. Research shows that distress may affect how you make decisions and take action about health, too. You may have trouble focusing on treatment decisions, making follow-up appointments, or even taking medications that are important for your treatment. People might describe distress as feeling:
A certain amount of distress is normal when you or a loved one has cancer. There are many things that suddenly seem uncertain. Distress is common in people with cancer and in their family members and loved ones. In fact, everything about having cancer is stressful. So, a certain amount of distress is normal when you or a loved one has cancer. For example, some people:
Certain times during the treatment or parts of the cancer experience may bring on distress more than others. Some of these times might include:
Sometimes distress can go from an expected level to one that interferes with treatment, makes it hard for you to function or cope, and affects all parts of your life. In some cases, a person with distress may have trouble sleeping, eating, or concentrating. Some might have frequent thoughts of illness and death.
Signs and symptoms of more serious distress:
Other things or issues, even those from the past, can increase the risk for distress and signal the need for help. For example, distress can be increased if you have uncontrolled side effects related to cancer, other serious illnesses, financial trouble, limited access to health care, transportation problems, young children at home, or language barriers. Studies also show that women have a higher risk for distress, as well as people who have been physically or sexually abused in the past, or if they have a history of having a mental disorder or drug or alcohol abuse.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Dahlin C. Anxiety. In Camp-Sorrell D, Hawkins RA. Clinical Manual for the Oncology Advanced Practice Nurse. 3rd ed. Pittsburgh, PA: Oncology Nursing Society; 2014; 1383-1390.
Grassi L. Psychiatric and psychosocial implications in cancer care: The agenda of psycho-oncology. Epidemiol Psychiatr Sci. 2020;29:e89.
Hammelef KJ, Tavernier SS. Distress. In Brown CG (ed.). A Guide to Oncology Symptom Management. 2nd ed. Pittsburgh, PA: Oncology Nursing Society. 2015; 265-281..
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Mehta RD, Roth AJ. Psychiatric Considerations in the Oncology Setting. CA Cancer J Clin. 2015;65:300-314.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Patient and Family Resources: Managing Stress and Distress. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/patients/resources/life_with_cancer/distress.aspx on January 31, 2020.
National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety Disorders. Accessed at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml on January 31, 2020.
Oncology Nursing Society (ONS). Symptom Interventions: Anxiety. Accessed at https://www.ons.org/pep/anxiety on January 31, 2020.
Pitman A, Suleman S, Hyde N, Hodgkiss A. Depression and anxiety in patients with cancer. British Medical Journal. 2018;361:k14-15.
Last Revised: February 1, 2020