Depression Impacts Cancer Recovery

Patients with cancer need to be assessed for mental health issues.

Colorectal cancer patients who are depressed at the time of diagnosis are 7 times more likely to have very poor health and 13 times more likely to have very poor quality-of-life after treatment, a study found.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, found that 1 in 5 people are depressed at the time of their diagnosis, and they are significantly less likely to recover well after treatment for colorectal cancer compared with patients not suffering from depression.

“This research tells us that having depression has an enormous impact on how people live after their cancer treatment,” said researcher Jane Maher. “In fact, it affects their recovery more than whether or not they've been diagnosed early. We know that depression and anxiety often go hand in hand with cancer but now we can see the extent to which people are struggling to live with these illnesses.

“Colorectal cancer can have some difficult physical consequences, such as incontinence and sexual difficulties - it's more than enough for anyone to have to deal with. Mental health issues can be a real barrier to people getting better.”

Prior research has shown that more than 500,000 people given a cancer diagnosis are also living with mental health issues, such as depression. Researchers stress that unless individuals undergoing cancer treatment are specifically asked about any other concerns or illnesses by their healthcare professional, these mental health issues can be missed, and patients may not receive the necessary support.

“Identification of those most at risk of poorer quality of life through assessment of depression soon after diagnosis will identify those patients most in need of support. Support should then be available to those who need it,” said researcher Claire Foster. “These results have the potential to revolutionize patient assessment and care-planning to enhance patient care and improve recovery experiences after cancer. However these results are just the beginning, we now need to assess whether they can be applied to patients with different types of cancer and improve access to psychological resources and services for those experiencing depression.”

The groundbreaking study followed more than 1000 colorectal cancer patients from before surgery until a minimum of 5 years afterwards. The study assessed patient recovery by measuring indicators of wellbeing, quality-of-life, and health.

“People can live well after cancer, but only if they get the right support,” Maher said. “This is a stark reminder that every cancer patient is different and so many people are living with many issues on top of coping with cancer. As healthcare professionals we need to consider each person's individual needs to ensure they get the best support possible. And not just while they're going through treatment, but for many years afterwards.”