This study aimed to examine the relationship between fear of cancer recurrence (FCR) and symptoms of anxiety, depression, and emotional distress in cancer survivors. Additionally, potential effect modifiers of this link were investigated.
A systematic search was conducted in PsychInfo, PubMed/Medline, Web of Science, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials until June 2022. Studies reporting the association between FCR and mental health indices in adolescent and young adult survivors (15–39 years) and adult survivors (>18 years) were included. Study quality was assessed using the Joanna Briggs Institute checklist for cross-sectional studies.
A total of 72 primary studies with 31,740 participants were identified, with the majority having a low risk of bias. The results revealed a significant association between FCR and depression, anxiety, and emotional distress. This association was observed whether FCR was examined in relation to each factor individually or collectively. The effect sizes fell within the medium range. Notably, the relationship between FCR and mental health strengthened over the years of publication. Additionally, lengthier FCR assessment instruments yielded larger effect sizes compared to shorter and single-item instruments, underscoring the significance of instrument selection.
This meta-analysis provides further evidence that FCR is linked to a range of common mental health problems. The medium effect sizes observed indicate the need to consider FCR when evaluating the mental health of cancer survivors, and vice versa. Further research is required to elucidate the underlying mechanisms of the FCR-mental health link.