Depression and breast cancer occur, treated together

By • Published: November 16th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

As if a cancer diagnosis isn’t difficult enough, scientists have found that women with breast cancer who also are depressed are at higher risk of cancer recurrence and early death than their counterparts who aren’t down in the dumps.

That might be because of the effect depression has on the immune system, various studies have found.

Recently, Stanford scientists discovered that the more symptoms of depression women with metastatic breast cancer had, the lower their immune responses to common bacteria, fungi and yeasts.

And patients who had higher levels of cortisol… a hormone produced copiously during depression that acts on the immune system… did not respond as strongly as other women to immune-system triggering substances. The precise role of cortisol in cancer is still being investigated.

Up to twenty-five percent of people who have cancer also get major depression, so to effectively care for those patients, physicians must address both conditions.

Some cancer medications appear to increase the risk of developing depression. And radiation treatment can lead to “post-radiation syndrome,” which includes depression symptoms.

That’s why a patient’s oncologist and psychiatrist must work closely together, so they both know all the medications the patient is taking and the symptoms they are experiencing say experts who treat patients who have depression and cancer.

The good thing is, most patients with cancer respond to treatments for depression just as well as others do. Effective treatment for depression makes coping with cancer and associated therapies easier… And at the end of the day it just might reduce the risks of cancer recurrence too.