Individuals with strong symptoms of depression and shorter telomeres — pieces of repetitive DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes from breaking down — have a higher risk of dying from bladder cancer, according to preliminary research.
“We found that patients with bladder cancer with shorter telomeres and high levels of depression symptoms have a threefold increased risk for mortality,” Meng Chen, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
For the study, researchers analyzed medical and psychological data on nearly 500 patients with bladder cancer.
The participants’ depression levels were rated on a standard scale — patients without symptoms of depression had a score below 16 and those with a score of 16 or greater were considered depressed.
Those rated as depressed had an average survival time of 58 months, while patients with scores below 16 had an average survival time of more than 200 months.
Depressed patients had a 1.89 times higher risk of death from all causes than non-depressed patients.
Blood samples were used to measure the length of patients’ telomeres, a marker of aging that is linked to cancer. Patients with depression and short telomeres had more than a three times higher risk for death and a much shorter period of disease-free survival.
The study authors stated that more research is needed to further investigate the results. But they suggested mental health factors may play a vital role in the survival of people with cancer, along with lifestyle factors that could slow the shortening of telomeres, including exercise and weight loss.
“In terms of building a prediction model for bladder cancer mortality, current models only focus on clinical variables, such as treatment and tumor stage and grade,” Chen said. “Our study suggests that psychological factors and perhaps lifestyle changes could be included in this prediction model.”
Although the study showed an association between depression, DNA changes and death after bladder cancer, it does not confirm a cause-and-effect relationship.
The results were presented at the annual cancer prevention conference of the American Association for Cancer Research in California.