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Cancer Health Center

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Depression (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Intervention

Table 6. Factors to Consider in Choosing an Antidepressant For Adult Cancer Patients continued...

It should be noted that electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a useful and safe therapy when other interventions have not succeeded in relieving the depressive syndrome that may represent a life-threatening complication of treatable cancer.[60,61] Experience is limited, however, in using ECT in patients receiving mirtazapine and trazodone, and there are no clinical studies establishing the use of ECT in patients receiving SSRIs. Prolonged seizures have occurred rarely in patients receiving fluoxetine.



Traditionally, depressive symptomatology was managed with insight-oriented psychotherapy, which is quite useful for some people with cancer. For many other people, these symptoms are best managed with some combination of crisis intervention, brief supportive psychotherapy, and cognitive-behavioral techniques.

Psychotherapy for depression has been offered in a variety of forms. Most interventions have been time limited (ranging between 4 and 30 hours), have been offered in both individual and small-group formats, and have included a structured educational component about cancer or a specific relaxation component.[62]

Cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy has been one of the most prominent types of therapies studied in recent investigations. Cognitive-behavioral interventions focus on altering specific coping strategies aimed at improving overall adjustment and typically focus on specific thoughts and their relationship to emotions and behaviors. Understanding and altering one's thoughts can change emotional reactions and accompanying behaviors. For example, frequent, intrusive, uncontrollable thoughts about loss, life changes, or death can cause poor concentration and precipitate feelings of sadness, guilt, and worthlessness. In turn, these feelings can result in increased sleep, withdrawal, and isolation. A cognitive-behavioral intervention focuses on the intrusive thoughts, often challenging their accuracy or rationality and noting specific patterns of cognitive distortions. Simultaneously, patients develop specific cognitive coping strategies that are designed to alter emotional reactions and accompanying behaviors. The end result is improved coping, enhanced adjustment, and better overall quality of life.

Other goals of psychotherapy include enhancing coping skills, directly reducing distress, improving problem-solving skills, mobilizing support, reshaping negative or self-defeating thoughts, and developing a close personal bond with a knowledgeable, empathic health care provider.[63][Level of evidence: II];[64,65,66][Level of evidence: I][67] Consultation with a cleric or a member of a pastoral care department may also help some individuals.

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