woman in pink tank top representing breast cancer
Text Size: Decrease Text Size Increase Text Size
December 15, 2010

Although a diagnosis of breast cancer is sure to lower a woman's spirits, those who are able to lift themselves out of the initial depression appear to survive longer, a new study suggests.

These researchers found that women whose depression subsided after the first year after being told they had advanced breast cancer outlived those whose depression symptoms worsened by more than two years.

More research needs to be undertaken to prove the mind-body connection and it is still uncertain that depression is the root of the difference in shorter survival, reports Reuters Health but the findings are optimistic.

Depression puts numerous burdens on the body that are linked to cancer progression including a decreased immune system function and increased inflammation, says lead researcher Janine Giese-Davis of the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.

"When these physiological changes become chronic, we believe that they may deplete the resources of the body, making it more difficult for patients to recover," she told Reuters Health.

Previous research shows that more than half of all cancer patients suffer symptoms of depression and nearly 38 percent develop major depression; the rates of depression depend on the cancer type and stage.

In the new study, Giese-Davis and her colleagues identified more than 100 women in the San Francisco Bay Area who had recently received a diagnosis of breast cancer that had begun spreading to other parts of the body, so-called metastatic cancer.

Then the researchers randomly selected half of the patients to undergo supportive group therapy each week. Each participant learned about depression and reported their depression symptoms and reported how they felt at four, eight and 12 months.

Half of those whose depression symptoms decreased over the first year lived at least another four and a half years, compared to just two years for those whose depression worsened.

Improvements in depression raised chances of survival beyond 14 years by 68 percent, report the researchers in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

"Our results did not specify one particular treatment," explained Giese-Davis, noting that both therapy and medications can be effective. "The only thing that mattered was the decrease over time in depression symptoms."

"We do not advocate simply 'thinking positive,'" noted Giese-Davis. "It is normal for patients to feel sad, angry and fearful."

She emphasized that talking openly about those feelings can help and that overcoming depression will "improve your quality of life, your social relationships, healthy behaviors, and your ability to follow through on your doctor's recommendations."

Related Stories

Breakthrough: New Drug Treatment for Cancer Could Save Thousands

Breast Cancer Survival Rates and Stages

Breast Cancer Researcher Uses Her Own Diagnosis to Educate Others
Comments / Post a comment

Post your comment