Depression in Cancer Patients

By Jane Framingham, Ph.D.

Living with cancer involves much more than coping with the physical wear and tear of a prolonged illness. Multiple operations, chemotherapy and radiation can dramatically affect the mind as well as the body.

According to the American Psychological Association, researchers have estimated that anywhere from 20 to 60 percent of cancer patients have symptoms of depression. Drastic changes in lifestyle and the fear and anxiety that accompany a chronic, sometimes fatal, disease can impact the emotional well being of the sturdiest of patients.

Coping with Anxiety and Cancer

The transition from a “normal” life to one with cancer can overwhelm a patient with many fears, the biggest being fear of the unknown. Cancer patients experiencing treatments for the first time can be filled with so much anxiety that they develop anticipatory nausea and vomiting.

Trained therapists can teach skills such as systematic desensitization, in which the patient imagines different parts of the treatment, from the least feared to the most, learning to reach a level of comfort with each one.

Visualization is a similar technique in which patients learn to induce tranquil states of mind during or after treatment to distract them from anxiety, discomfort or pain. Research suggests that these techniques can reduce nausea and vomiting both before and after treatment and can lessen the severity of side effects.

What Causes Depression with Cancer?

Cancer patients must cope with the many aspects of their lives that will be affected by the disease. These may include not being able to keep their regular work schedules, experiencing painful changes in their relationships with their spouses or partners and facing the stress of dealing with billing and insurance details.

Being faced with so many difficult issues while trying to battle a serious illness can cause many cancer patients to escape into themselves, block out the world around them and feed feelings of deep depression. While these problems may hit patients suddenly and without warning, it’s important for them to resist the desire to isolate themselves.

Therapists can help cancer patients work out alternative work schedules or find fulfillment in other interests they may not have had time for before; they can help patients and their spouses or partners adjust to changes in both of their lives through couples therapy and they can point patients to resources that can relieve the burden of handling the health care industry.

Although many of the painful issues that arise while living with cancer can make depression likely, the positive effects of individual or group therapy can be a powerful tool in the battle against both the physical and emotional toll that cancer can take. As a part of a regular treatment plan, therapy can guard against and treat depressive symptoms, helping patients find inner strength during a challenging time.

 

APA Reference
Framingham, J. (2006). Depression in Cancer Patients. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/depression-in-cancer-patients/00049
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.