New research suggests that surviving cancer may only be a first step – survivors must also work to avoid depression.
Dutch researchers have found depressed cancer survivors are twice as likely to die prematurely as those who do not suffer from depression.
The researchers say the findings, published online in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, are applicable to all forms, and sites of cancer. It is an important discovery as the prevalence of cancer is rising, as are the number of individuals who are cured of their cancer or are living with it as a chronic disease.
Experts say this is partly due to the aging of the population and more effective treatments.
Thus, our success in eliminating the cancer, or transforming the condition into a chronic disease, has resulted in many cancer survivors facing continuing problems including a high prevalence of depression.
Floortje Mols, Ph.D., from Tilburg University in The Netherlands, and her colleagues 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 work focused on survivors of endometrial cancer, colorectal cancer, lymphoma or multiple myeloma, where little work looking at this potential link has been done to date.
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.
Researchers found that depressive symptoms increased the risk of death: 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-ten-year cancer survivors with depression were twice as likely to have died early.
Investigators believe that paying attention to the recognition and treatment of depressive symptoms in this patient group is paramount. Moreover, future research is needed to explain the association between depressive symptoms and death from cancer, say the researchers.
“We also need to better understand whether treatments for depressive symptoms in cancer patients have life-prolonging effects,” Mols said.