Depression and cancer survival

When people live with depression, not only do they experience the negative symptoms associated with the disorder itself – low mood, lack of motivation, irritability, feelings of hopelessness and risk of suicide – but they also face other health impacts. 

Depressed individuals are at greater risk of complications or death from a variety of other ailments including heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. 

One study recently examined depression and its relationship with lung cancer survival. Not surprisingly, worsening depression was associated with shorter survival for lung cancer patients. 

For this study, researchers followed more than 1,700 newly diagnosed lung cancer patients and gave them a depression assessment at the outset and again a year later. Forty percent of patients met criteria for depression at the first screening and a further 14 percent developed depressive symptoms during the trial.

Those who were depressed at the beginning of the study were 17 percent more likely to die during follow-up than those without depression. Patients who developed depressive symptoms during the study were 50 percent more likely to die than those who were never depressed. 

Interesting and hopeful – patients whose depression improved during the study, also experienced a corresponding improvement in their chances of survival. 

Although this study alone cannot say that treating depression would lead to better cancer survival rates, other studies have shown benefit from improving a patient’s psychosocial well being.

This makes sense – the symptoms of depression could easily lead to a person missing appointments or not carefully following treatment recommendations and this would not bode well for a successful outcome. As we have all heard many times, cancer treatment can demand a fighting spirit and a person with unchecked depression is often not in a fighting frame of mind.

As a medical community, we can take this study as one more reminder of the importance of treating the whole patient. Different areas of health are often connected and we generally do a better job when we take that into account. 

For those who may be experiencing depression – you are not alone. Depression is more than just feeling blue and it can take a toll on your whole health. Please speak with your doctor to find out what treatment options might benefit you. Effective help is out there.


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