Breast Cancer Depression Common
Researchers Say Emotional Reactions to Breast Cancer Diagnosis Are Undertreated
Nov. 13, 2006 -- The emotional distress of a breast cancer diagnosis can
trigger serious depression, which is often undertreated.
The finding comes from a study of 236 consecutive patients who had just
learned that they had breast cancer. The women's mental
health was evaluated before they spoke with a surgeon at
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.
Nearly half the women reported emotional distress that interfered with their
daily lives. More than one in 10 had major depression -- even though most
already were taking a psychiatric medication.
Patients may not tell their doctors about their emotional distress, note
psychologist Mark T. Hegel, PhD, and colleagues. They are afraid of distracting
the doctors from curing their cancer and afraid of being stigmatized as
Oncologists, on the other hand, may not have the skills needed to recognize
And these problems are difficult to deal with. The 47% of women who reported
emotional stress suffered worry,
fear, nervousness, sadness, and depression.
Nearly all of these women were troubled by uncertainties about treatment and
physical symptoms. Most suffered distress from practical life problems and
family problems. About one in 10 suffered a spiritual crisis.
Hegel and colleagues suggest that doctors should do a better job of
evaluating and treating the emotional consequences of a breast cancer
But there is something else doctors can do that is just as important.
"We need to do a better job of getting the word out about how well we
can treat breast cancer," Hegel says in a news release. "These
emotional disorders are almost certainly due in part to the fear and
helplessness that continues to result from a cancer diagnosis."
Hegel and colleagues report the findings in the Dec. 15 issue of