Cancer and depression

The good news of course is that improvements in the early detection and treatment of cancer have resulted in longer periods of survival. As a result, researchers are focusing new attention on the long-term impact of cancer. A diagnosis of cancer often results in an overwhelming sense of fear, anxiety, and stress. Some research has indicated that depression has been underdiagnosed and undertreated in cancer patients.

Cancer survivors have a higher rate of hospitalization for depression than the cancer-free population, according to the results of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Researchers in Denmark conducted a nationwide, population-based study of cancer patients in Denmark. Using the Danish Cancer Registry, they identified 608,591 adults who were diagnosed with cancer between 1973 and 2003. By cross-referencing these patients with data from the Danish Psychiatric Central Register, the researchers found that there were 121,304 hospitalizations for depression.

The results of their analysis indicated that the risk for admission into the hospital for depression was highest during the first year after the cancer diagnosis. This was true for both men and women and for all types of cancer. However, they found that men and women with hormone-related cancers, women with smoking-related cancers, and men with virus- and immune-related cancers all had a significantly increased risk of depression-related hospitalization that persisted for 10 or more years after their cancer diagnosis.

The researchers concluded that patients who face a disruptive event like cancer have an increased risk of depression that can persist for many years. They suggest, “Early recognition and effective treatment of depression, both in the cancer setting and beyond, would have the potential to prevent admission for depression and thus reduce patient suffering and enhance the quality of life of cancer survivors.”

As I have said time and again in this blog, we need to make survivorship a distinct phase of cancer treatment with a dedicated plan for this phase.  Ellen Stovall, a 34-year survivor of two bouts with cancer and president of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, says the reason cancer patients become lost in transition is that “there is no coordinated system of care. People who are post-treatment don’t have any systematic way of being followed for short-term or long-term problems. They are lost to follow-up.

Read this report on the Caring 4 Cancer website.