Depression Common Among Women With Breast Cancer

Women with breast cancer had high rates of antidepressant use and hospital visits for depression

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Being diagnosed with a potentially deadly disease like breast cancer can come as an emotional shock. And a new study found that women diagnosed with breast cancer had a raised risk for depression.

A recent Danish study found that many women sought mental health care in the first year after breast cancer diagnosis, and many more started taking antidepressants. This was especially true for women who had other health problems in addition to breast cancer, and for women whose lymph nodes tested positive for the cancer — meaning the disease had spread beyond the breast.

The study authors said all women diagnosed with breast cancer should be screened for depression.

Nis P. Suppli, MD, of the Danish Cancer Society Research Center in Denmark, wrote this study with colleagues.

Past studies on the relationship between breast cancer and depression lacked important information or only followed women for a short period of time, the authors noted.

The authors studied almost 2 million women who were cancer-free and did not have a major psychiatric disorder. From this group, 44,494 women developed breast cancer between 1998 and 2011.

The study authors found that, in the first year after a breast cancer diagnosis, women were 1.7 times more likely to seek treatment for depression and three times more likely to start taking antidepressants than women who did not have breast cancer.

The researchers followed up with the women who had breast cancer three and eight years after they received the news. Even years after the diagnosis, more of these women started using antidepressants or contacted a hospital for depression treatment than women who did not have breast cancer. However, the number of patients who sought hospital treatment for depression or began taking antidepressants was highest within the first year of diagnosis.

Factors that may make a woman with breast cancer more likely to be depressed included having other health problems, having cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes, being 70 years old or older, living alone or having limited education, the authors found.

The study authors suggested that doctors keep these factors in mind when they see patients with breast cancer.

“In conclusion, women with breast cancer are at long-term risk for depression, and clinicians should be vigilant for signs of this condition,” they wrote.

This study was published online Oct. 27 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The Danish Cancer Society and the Health Foundation, Denmark, funded the research. Study author Lars V. Kessing received funding from Lundbeck and AstraZeneca.

Review Date: 
October 27, 2014
Last Updated:
October 28, 2014