Anxiety may make coping with cancer treatment more difficult and may also interfere with your ability to make choices about your care.


Laura PoleAuthor

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, BCCT Senior Researcher

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Nancy Hepp, MS, BCCT Project Manager

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Last updated March 30, 2021.

Anxiety is a common symptom among people with cancer.2 According to, anxiety may be described as feeling nervous, "on edge" or worried. A normal emotion, it alerts your body to respond to a threat. However, intense and prolonged anxiety is a disorder which may interfere with your daily activities and relationships. Anxiety may make coping with cancer treatment more difficult and may also interfere with your ability to make choices about your care. Therefore, identifying and managing anxiety are important parts of cancer treatment.3

Highlighted Video

Author, clinical professor and BCCT advisor Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, demonstrates a breathing technique to help lower anxiety.

Managing Anxiety

Helpsy Health

Even when people are getting the best of cancer treatment, they often feel like they need more help with organizing their care and managing symptoms and side effects. Helpsy empowers members to take control of their health through a real-time virtual nurse support service. This service is available via mobile devices, a Helpsy website and automated phone calls.

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Managing Fear of Cancer Recurrence

A pilot study found that acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) reduced fear of recurrence among breast cancer survivors better than survivorship education or a 30‐minute group coaching session with survivorship readings.5 See the ACT website, which includes a link to find an ACT therapist.

The Society for Integrative Oncology evidence-based clinical practice guidelines cite the following complementary approaches as being useful in an integrative plan to manage anxiety:6

Some natural products can impact anxiety and stress levels. A 2017 review reported these conclusions:7

  • Supplementation with essential fatty acids (linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid) reduced perceived stress and salivary cortisol levels, with effects dependent on hormone status and whether depression was also evident
  • Vitamin B6 supplements, sometimes combined with magnesium, reduced anxiety in some women for conditions other than cancer.
  • High-dose sustained-release vitamin C supplements reduced anxiety and blood pressure in response to stress.8

Medical cannabis is reputed by some to reduce anxiety, although a 2018 review found insufficient evidence to support this use.9 In fact, for some, cannabis can increase feelings of uneasiness or anxiety, especially the strains that are higher in THC.

In addition to complementary therapies, consider seeing a professional such as a therapist, oncology social worker or oncology navigator to help you explore your stressful situation and identify an approach that is right for you.

Anxiety and Breathlessness (Dyspnea)

Breathlessness (dyspnea) is a common symptom among people with advanced cancer. “Breathlessness can be associated with and made worse by accompanying anxiety and can severely impact quality of life and exercise capacity."10

A review of 29 studies (randomized control trials) found that people with advanced cancer experienced relief from symptoms of breathlessness with nonpharmacologic therapies.11 Relief lasted a few minutes to a few hours in a hospital setting:12

  1. Fan therapy: blowing air from a fan into the face of patients experiencing breathlessness
  2. Air pressure delivered through a face mask covering the mouth and nose (bilevel ventilation)

In outpatient settings, these therapies were associated with improved breathlessness, although the strength of evidence was judged as low. Relief lasted for a few weeks to months:

  1. Acupressure and reflexology
  2. Multicomponent interventions (combined activity and rehabilitation, behavioral and psychoeducational, and integrative medicine)

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.


Laura Pole, RN, OCNS, October 18, 2018: Ruth Hennig, a two-time breast cancer survivor, has written blog posts describing her experience using acupuncture and other complementary approaches to bolster her resilience during treatment and tame her anxiety upon learning the breast cancer had recurred. Her tips and insights for taking care of herself after a double mastectomy are simple and practical, and they may be incredibly valuable for others having a mastectomy. See her posts in the Our Blog box below.

Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on March 30, 2021.

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