Mental distress and health care use among survivors of adolescent and young adult cancer: A cross-sectional analysis of the National Health Interview Survey

Sapna Kaul, Jaqueline C. Avila, Miriam Mutambudzi, Heidi Russell, Anne C. Kirchhoff, Cindy L. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: The current study was conducted to examine the prevalence and correlates of mental distress among survivors of adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer and a comparison group. METHODS: A total of 875 AYA cancer survivors who were diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 39 years and who were at least 5 years from their initial diagnosis were identified from the 2013 and 2014 National Health Interview Surveys. A comparison group was created. The Kessler nonspecific mental/psychological distress scale was used to examine none/low, moderate, and severe distress. The issues of whether individuals talked to mental health professionals within the previous year and if they could afford mental health care also were examined. Variables (ie, demographics, behavioral [eg, smoking status], comorbidity, and mental health visits) associated with distress among the 2 groups were identified using multinomial logistic regressions. RESULTS: Survivors reported mental distress more often than the comparison group (moderate: 23.2% vs 16.9%; and severe: 8.4% vs 3.0% [P<.001]). Survivors cited not being able to afford mental health care more often (6.4% vs 2.3%; P =.002). Moreover, 74.7% and 52.2% of survivors, respectively, with moderate and severe distress had not talked to a mental health professional. Contrary to the comparison group, survivors who were current smokers reported severe distress more often compared with nonsmokers (relative risk, 3.59; 95% confidence interval, 1.46-8.84 [P =.01]). Having public and no insurance versus private insurance and report of sleep-related trouble within the previous week were found to be associated with greater distress among survivors. CONCLUSIONS: AYA cancer survivors are more likely to demonstrate mental distress than individuals without cancer. Nevertheless, few survivors may be receiving professional mental health services. Survivors need greater access to mental health screening and counseling to address the current gaps in care delivery. Cancer 2017;123:869–78.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)869-878
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • adolescent and young adult cancer
  • kessler's distress scale
  • mental distress
  • mental health care access

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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