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People with cancer need dedicated treatment to tackle depression

Major depression is much more common among cancer sufferers – but trial shows a possible way forward.

Image: hands circle via Shutterstock

THREE-QUARTERS OF cancer patients who have developed “major” depression are not being in any way treated for that depression.

Papers published in The Lancet and associated journals analyse data from over 21,000 cancer patients in Scotland and the UK. The researchers found that – perhaps understandably – severe depression is more common in cancer patients than in the general public. Of cancer patients, those with lung cancer – who are likely to have a poor longterm prognosis – are most likely to become severely depressed (13%).

On top of that, those cancer patients suffering from severe depression do not find on the whole that their depression is considered a priority for treatment. Just one-quarter of those patients were receiving any treatment for their serious depression.

How to help?

A new treatment programme called ‘Depression Care for People with Cancer’ (DCPC) was trialled and the results reported on by The Lancet. This programme puts together a specialist team, consisting of oncology nurses and psychiatrists who work with the patient’s cancer team and GP, and treatment for depression is prioritised as all part of the patient’s cancer treatment.

The lead author on the paper, Professor Michael Sharpe at University of Oxford, said:

The huge benefit that DCPC delivers for patients with cancer and depression shows what we can achieve for patients if we take as much care with the treatment of their depression as we do with the treatment of their cancer.

There were two trials using this DCPC whole-team approach – one involving 500 patients with major depression and a cancer with a good prognosis; one with patients with a poor prognosis (142 patients were involved in this).

In both trials, the extra care for depression led to strikingly reduced rates of depression. In the first trial, around 62% of patients found their depression significantly reduced within six months (compared to 17% who only received the standard care).

In the second trial, it was found that the treatment improved anxiety levels, ability to function and quality of life. This was important, said study leader Dr Jane Walker from University of Oxford, because those patients with a poor prognosis can find that the depression they suffer “can blight the time they have left to live”.

It was also shown that using DCPC was cost-effective in improving patients’ quality of life.

If you want to read more, you can click through to three papers on the trials -

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