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Mentally ill have higher odds of developing brain, lung cancers

October 08, 2004

Men and women with mental disorders have higher odds of being diagnosed with brain tumors and lung cancer and they develop these cancers at younger ages than individuals without mental illness according to a study published in the current issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

"This work is a piece in the larger puzzle of understanding the relationships between mental and physical health," said Caroline Carney, M.D., M.Sc., associate professor of psychiatry and medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a research scientist at the Regenstrief Institute, Inc. Dr. Carney is the first author of the study which looked at insurance claims data from over seven hundred thousand adults between the ages of 18 and 64 living in Iowa and South Dakota.

"It is known that people with mental illness smoke more than the general population, so the higher incidence of lung cancer was not surprising. The association between mental health problems and brain tumors, was less expected but is explained by the likelihood that brain tumors cause mental symptoms prior to other symptoms like neurological symptoms. Our data showed the new diagnosis of mental symptoms up to one year prior to brain tumor diagnosis," said Dr. Carney who is both a psychiatrist and an internist.

The researchers also found the incidence of lymphoma and leukemia higher in women with mental health problems than those in the control group, however odds of developing breast cancer was the same in both groups.

"These findings underscore the need for smoking cessation counseling and physical work-ups for new psychiatric symptoms occurring with physical symptoms, for psychiatric symptoms presenting in an unusual pattern, or for new psychiatric symptoms occurring at ages atypical in the mentally ill," said Dr. Carney.
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This study was supported by the American Cancer Society and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Indiana University

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