FCR – A New Mental Condition Associated with Cancer

Do you have FCR…Fear of Cancer Recurrence? FCR has been defined as “fear, worry, or concern relating to the possibility that cancer will come back or progress.”1

Now that we have a definition, we need a study about it, right? Well, luckily, there is just such a thing. This study, being conducted at the University of Illinois in Chicago, examines the lack of knowledge around the prevalence of FCR.

FCR seems pretty obvious to me

Hmmm. I gotta ask, is this study akin to ones that study the sex lives of dragonflies or other such nonsensical federal studies? I wish I knew how much this study is costing because I have a feeling the money could be better used elsewhere.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a lot of money to know that the vast majority of those people ever touched by cancer have some degree of FCR. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have at least a modicum of fear that your cancer will recur … or if you still have it … that it will spread. So, without earning or spending a dime, I will go out on a limb and guess that at least 95% of cancer patients exhibit at least some fear of cancer recurrence (the study only found that up to 87% of patients experience FCR, but I think they are underreporting). It may be fleeting, but even I, someone who worries very little, have a thought now and then about the fact that my cancer might begin to grow again and that there might not be a treatment out there to stop it.

Giving a common feeling a definition

The article that discusses this new study can be found on Medscape’s site in the article, “Fear of Cancer Return: Distinct From Depression and Distress.”1 I actually learned about the article when it was posted to an online group that caters to cancer patients and caregivers.

A brief discussion about the study ensued on the forum. Apparently, there are those who were pleased to learn that there is an actual definition for the fear they experience of their cancer recurring or spreading.

Am I just too cynical? Am I the only one who thinks this is a stupid study … a topic that doesn’t even need to be studied? Can’t we just accept the premise that the vast majority of those touched by cancer experience some fear that it will return or grow?

How can we better support those with FCR?

Would not a better study be how best to support those who suffer from FCN? I do think that there are some who have such high focus on FCN that they are giving up their joy of today. So many people touched by cancer are nearly paralyzed with the fear of it invading their lives again.

I am dismayed that the researchers are going to keep on asking for money to continue this study of identifying people with FCR. Christopher J. Recklitis, Ph.D., MPH, director of research at the Perini Family Survivors’ Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, said that the study was very valuable, but doesn’t answer as many questions as needed.1

For example, Recklitis says, “we don’t know how bothered or impaired survivors are by FCR.”1  And, sheesh, the study also doesn’t tell us whether FCR is a sign of anxiety in general or not or whether it can be tied to health behaviors and healthcare utilization.

A necessary study?

I don’t know … it seems like the initial study really just didn’t answer very many questions at all, doesn’t it? I again wonder how much it cost to come up with a definition for what just about every cancer survivor I have ever known has to some degree – fear of cancer return.

Does it make you feel better to know that there is now a formal definition for something you may have been feeling? Or, are you like me, wishing that the money used for this study had instead been spent on finding effective ways to treat anxiety in cancer patients or invested in finding new treatments for our disease?

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