A Hidden Battle in the Cancer Journey

September 24, 2014

A recent study published in Lancet found that three-quarters of cancer patients who are clinically depressed do not receive the therapy they need, creating a “huge unmet need.” The study argued that although depression is widely overlooked, treatment would cost a fraction of cancer drugs.

The study points out that although feelings of sadness can be common with a cancer diagnosis or any other major health issue, depression is much more than just temporary sadness. Individuals with depression may feel persistently low, find it difficult to sleep and have poor appetites.

The research focused on 21,000 individuals living with cancer in Scotland. It found that 6 to 13 percent of these individuals were clinically depressed, significantly higher than the two percent in the general population. Additionally, 75 percent of the individuals with depression did not receive adequate treatment. Many did not consider seeking treatment themselves. Further, the medical professionals they routinely visited did not pick up on or diagnose their depression.

The Cancer Support Community’s Research and Training Institute has also done research on the topic. In CSC’s Cancer Experience Registry, a survey of metastatic breast cancer patients found that, among patients that were seen at a community cancer center or private oncology practice, 50 percent of them were never asked about distress. Even when seen at a comprehensive cancer center, 35% of patients were not asked about distress. When looking at those patients who were asked about distress, regardless of the care facility, 20 percent never received referrals for managing it.

As a result of the Lancet study, the researchers recommended a new, nurse-led approach to treating depression. This approach combined anti-depressant drugs, problem-solving therapy and encouragement towards physical activity. In their study of 500 patients, this approach led to over 60 percent of participants reporting their depression scores as half of the previous score. Participants also said that they felt less anxiety, fatigue, and pain. Researchers argued that similar programs could vastly improve the quality of life of many individuals diagnosed with cancer.

This study contributes greatly to CSC’s mission of providing emotional and social support to individuals with cancer. If you or someone you know is facing a cancer diagnosis, you’re not alone. Call the Cancer Support Helpline at 1-888-793-9355 Mon-Fri 9 am- 8 pm ET or explore our online support group, The Living Room.

If you have ever had any type of cancer, we also welcome you to participate in our Cancer Experience Registry, an ongoing research project that is helping us learn more about the full impact of cancer.