Although screening for depression among cancer patients seems to be a no-brainer, research results have been equivocal on the benefit of interventions.
“In the past, we had looked at interventions as a whole — most of which were designed to help cancer patients cope generally with stress but not specifically with depression — and found moderate effects,” said Kristin Kilbourn, PhD., of the University of Colorado Cancer Center.
“This study shows not only that interventions specific to depression in cancer patients can improve symptoms, but shows which interventions are likely to offer the most benefit.”
Kilbourn and colleagues have published their findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
In the study, investigators performed a meta-analysis of 10 studies encompassing 1362 patients.
It included high quality studies that met stringent criteria specifying that studies were randomized control trials in which cancer patients reported a significant number of depressive symptoms prior to starting the intervention.
“Still, many questions exist,” Kilbourn said. “For example, which interventions are best in early cancers versus metastatic disease? Do we find similar effectiveness if patients were diagnosed with depression before their cancer? And which interventions are most effective with different cultural and ethnic subpopulations?”
Kilbourn believes future research should explore the benefits of the interventions in more detail including documentation of the gains patients report and the duration of the improvements.
Finally, “This study supports the notion that screening for depression in cancer patients is important because if we could identify people early in the process and intervene, we now know definitively that we can affect the trajectory of this depression,” Kilbourn said.