Depression and Cancer - February 17, 2017

Many Cancer Survivors Are Not Receiving Treatment for Their Depression

By Dana Taylor
Many Cancer Survivors Are Not Receiving Treatment for Their Depression

Patients with cancer and cancer survivors often experience anxiety and depression, which are normal responses to a traumatic event such as a cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately, many patients and cancer survivors do not receive appropriate treatment when their symptoms of depression should be treated.

Depression Often Ignored in Cancer Survivors

Studies have shown that 20% to nearly 50% of cancer survivors have depressive symptoms, and at least 10% of cancer survivors meet the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder, according to the Institute of Medicine’s report, From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost in Transition.

Depression among cancer survivors is associated with an increased risk for suicide, poor quality of life, increased mortality risk, delayed return to work, and more frequent use of healthcare resources, which increases their medical costs.

Hrishikesh Kale, MS, PharmD Candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy, and colleagues conducted a new analysis to understand the effect of therapy in cancer survivors with depression. Their study shows that almost a quarter of cancer survivors are depressed, but many of them do not receive treatment for their depression.

Who Gets Treatment for Depression?

The analysis involved 1,551 cancer survivors who were diagnosed with depression; of these patients, 81% received treatment for their depression: 66% received antidepressants alone, 3% received psychotherapy alone, and 12% received a combination of antidepressants and psychotherapy. The remaining 19% of cancer survivors received no treatment for their depression.

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Female cancer survivors were much more likely than men to receive treatment for depression, either antidepressants or a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Hispanics and unmarried survivors were less likely to receive treatment than those who were white or married.

In addition, being older than age 65 significantly reduced the likelihood of receiving treatment for depression, either with an antidepressant or with combination therapy.

Having health insurance also increased the likelihood of receiving treatment for depression versus those without insurance.

Furthermore, cancer survivors with overall fair or poor mental health were more likely than those with good health status to be treated for depression.

Survivors who complain of a high level of pain also were more likely than those who had only a low level of pain to get an antidepressant.

Ask for Help

Cancer survivors, family members, or caregivers who are depressed or feel frustrated in not being able to help their loved one who is dealing with cancer should be encouraged to seek help. If you think you are depressed, consider these steps:

  • Seek professional help or encourage the one who is depressed to seek treatment for depression
  • Talk to your nurse navigator or someone on your care team
  • Take daily walks or participate in easy exercises
  • Force yourself to be with family and friends
  • Don’t beat yourself for being depressed; it’s normal to feel depressed when dealing with cancer
  • Keep in mind that there’s help; treatment can help relieve the symptoms of depression
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