Depression is common among lung cancer patients and can damage their quality of life and treatment outcomes, a new study indicates.
The findings suggest that doctors should screen lung cancer patients for depression and refer them for mental health care if necessary, said lead author Barbara Andersen, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University in Columbus.
"Depression is just part of what these patients are dealing with. It comes with this whole package of worse functioning, more physical symptoms, stress, anxiety and more," Andersen said. "All of these can have negative effects on treatment, overall health, quality of life and disease progression."
The study included 186 patients recently diagnosed with advanced-stage non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for 85% of all lung cancer cases.
About one-third had either severe depression (8%) or moderate depression (28%).
Those with severe depression had high levels of hopelessness: 93% said they found it hard to work, take care of things at home and get along with other people, and one-third had considered suicide.
The patients with severe depression also had extreme levels of cancer-related stress and were the least confident that treatment would help. They were much more likely to have severe physical symptoms, including 73% who reported "quite a bit" or "very much" pain.
The study was published online Dec. 4 in the journal Lung Cancer.
"Some oncologists may have a mindset that 'of course, you're depressed, you have lung cancer.' This may show an under-appreciation of the breadth of depressive symptoms and other difficulties that accompany it," Andersen said in a university news release.
"This is more than having a 'low mood.' When severe, the depression rarely gets better without treatment," she emphasized.
In previous research, Anderson and her colleague's linked depression to lower survival rates in breast cancer patients and found that they benefited from mental health treatment.