March 12, 2002 -- Cancer patients that maintain strong, social ties to family and friends may be better able to cope with their disease, both mentally and physically. A new study shows limiting social interaction during cancer treatment can increase the risk of depression.
In the study, published in the journal Psycho-Oncology, researchers found losses in social functioning and severity of cancer symptoms were most closely related to depression. The greater the losses in social interaction and more serious the cancer symptoms were, the more likely the patient was to suffer from depression.
"These depressive symptoms can adversely affect a cancer patient in many ways: they can interfere with cancer treatment, increase length of hospital stay, reduce ability to care for oneself, impair quality of life and possibly reduce overall survival time," write the authors of the study.
Researchers interviewed 228 elderly lung cancer patients four times over the course of one year and assessed their symptoms of depression, physical functioning, social functioning, physical symptoms, and related conditions.
At each interview, the study found the best predictors for serious depression were the severity of the patients' cancer symptoms and their reported losses in social functioning.
The number of depressed patients was highest at the start of the study, which is in line with prior studies that show the risk of depression is greatest immediately after cancer diagnosis. Depressive symptoms also declined as the severity of symptoms declined.
Researchers say the findings suggest that healthcare providers should work with their patients to develop a treatment plan that addresses their symptoms while interfering as little as possible with normal social activities.