How does depression affect cancer patients?

Depression is a common but serious medical condition characterized by feelings of sadness, emptiness, irritability, restlessness or being tired; weight loss or gain; decreased interest in activities; chronic pain that does not get better with treatment. Sometimes, depression may lead to suicidal thoughts. Depression is common among cancer patients who may be struggling with fear about their mortality, finances and even legal issues.

How likely are cancer patients to experience depression?

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that one in four cancer patients suffers from clinical depression. In fact, the ACS says the majority of cancer patients, their families and caregivers experience some form of anxiety, fear or depression. According to the National Cancer Institute, patients are at greater risk for depression if they:

  • Have been diagnosed with metastatic or pancreatic cancer
  • Experience poorly controlled cancer-related pain
  • Are taking specific medications
  • Have become physically compromised by their disease

How may integrative care help?

The supportive care services that may help include:

Spiritual support

Some patients, their families and caregivers may find that getting in touch with their spirituality and sharing their fears with religious leaders may help them cope with the depression that often comes after a cancer diagnosis and the treatments that follow. Spiritual support services such as individual or group prayer and interfaith worship may bring hope and inspiration to those battling depression. Uplifting lessons in the Bible and other holy scriptures may offer faith-based patients clarity in times of difficulty, and clergy, spiritual leaders and congregations may be a source of support during the challenging days patients may encounter during their cancer journey.

Behavioral health

The behavioral health team at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is staffed by professionals trained to work with cancer patients. They understand how debilitating and disruptive depression may be, and the implications it may have on treatment, healing and recovery. These therapists support patients by guiding them through disappointments; feelings of loss or hopelessness; challenges or big decisions that may accompany a life-threatening illness. They may also refer patients to a psychiatrist for more in-depth treatment. The ways our behavioral health team may help patients alleviate depression include:

  • Talk therapy
  • Breathing and relaxation techniques
  • Guided imagery, which uses visualization techniques to help patients find peace and calm

Learn more about behavioral health