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Cancer and Anxiety Medications

person taking a pill

Anxiety is a common and understandable experience for cancer patients. Medications, in addition to behavioral approaches, are often prescribed.

Contributed by Shawna Kraft, PharmD

Some common medications include:

  • lorazepam (Ativan)
  • clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • paroxetine (Paxil)
  • citalopram (Celexa)
  • duloxetine (Cymbalta)

Image of Shawna Kraft, Pharm.D
Shawna Kraft, Pharm.D.

When you’re being treated for cancer, it is possible for your oncology provider, primary care physician or a psychiatric provider to prescribe anxiety medication. (These drugs can be used to treat other conditions, in addition to anxiety.)

Benzodiazepines are usually taken as needed and not scheduled every day. They are controlled substances so there is a limit on the number of refills and extra precautions around prescribing them.

Antidepressants are taken on a scheduled basis and should not be stopped suddenly. Usually, tapering off is required.

Most anxiety medications do not directly interact with cancer treatments, but may cause additional side effects. Always tell your cancer care team if you’re taking medications for anxiety. This includes herbal medications for anxiety, as many do interact with cancer therapies.

Medication for anxiety works best when paired with behavioral approaches, such as talk therapy, behavioral modification therapy or meditation. The most important thing I tell my patients is don’t be embarrassed if you’re experiencing anxiety. It is common and there is help available. Be sure to let your cancer care team know so we can help.

Continue reading the Fall, 2018 issue of Thrive

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Thrive Issue: 
Fall, 2018