Psychological Symptoms and Subsequent Healthy Lifestyle After a Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis

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Objective: Although medical professionals recommend lifestyle changes following a colorectal cancer (CRC) diagnosis to improve outcomes, such changes are not consistently implemented. This study examines whether higher distress is associated with lower likelihood of engaging in favorable behaviors after CRC diagnosis. Method: Women from the Nurses’ Health Study prospective cohort who completed anxiety (n = 145) and depression (n = 227) symptom scales within 4 years after receiving a CRC diagnosis were included. Measures of lifestyle (diet, physical activity, alcohol, smoking, body mass index [BMI]) were queried prediagnosis, when psychological symptoms were assessed (1988 and 1992, respectively), and then every 4 years thereafter until 2010. Women were categorized according to initial psychological symptoms levels and followed through 2010 or until last follow-up completed. Results: Higher versus lower anxiety symptoms were significantly related to unhealthier lifestyle scores throughout follow-up (β = −0.25, CI [−0.44, −0.05]); however, the rate of change over time was similar across groups (pinteraction effect = 0.41). Stratified analyses hinted that higher anxiety and depression symptoms were related to increased odds of reporting a future unhealthy lifestyle within 10-years postdiagnosis. Beyond 10 years, anxiety became statistically unrelated with future lifestyle, and higher depressive symptoms were associated with lower odds of subsequently having an unhealthy lifestyle, albeit nonstatistically significant (OR = 0.35, 95% CI [0.10, 1.24], p = 0.10). Conclusions: Among women with CRC, higher anxiety and depression symptoms were associated with subsequent unhealthier lifestyle in the 10 years following diagnosis. With replication, such findings may suggest that treating psychological symptoms early in the cancer trajectory may not solely reduce psychological distress but also promote healthier lifestyle.

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