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Depression doubles risk of death in cancer survivors


Depressed cancer survivors are twice as likely to die prematurely as those who do not suffer from depression, regardless of the cancer site, according to a Dutch study.

The prevalence of cancer is rising, as is the number of individuals who are cured or living with cancer as a chronic disease. Many survivors face continuing problems due to cancer and its treatment, including a high rate of depression, according to background information for the study, which was published May 16 on the website of the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

Researchers with Tilburg University in the Netherlands examined whether depressive symptoms observed between one and 10 years after cancer diagnosis were linked to an increased risk of premature death two to three years later.

Their study focused on survivors of endometrial cancer, colorectal cancer, lymphoma or multiple myeloma, diseases for which little work looking at this potential link has been done, they said. They analyzed data collected from several large population-based surveys in 2008 and 2009. A total of 3,080 cancer survivors completed questionnaires to identify symptoms of depression.

The authors found that depressive symptoms increased the risk of death, observing that clinically high levels of depressive symptoms were more common in those who died than in those who survived. Overall, after controlling for treatment, type of cancer, co-morbidity and metastasis, one-to-10-year cancer survivors with depression were twice as likely to have died early.

“Paying attention to the recognition and treatment of depressive symptoms in this patient group is key,” the researchers concluded. “The next step is to investigate the possible mechanisms that might explain the association between depressive symptoms and death from cancer. We also need to better understand whether treatments for depressive symptoms in cancer patients have life-prolonging effects.”

Read the study abstract:


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