Posted by Bill Couzens Founder Less Cancer

Depression linked to earlier death when cancer is diagnosed

The image of the feisty optimist beating cancer and, conversely, the brooding pessimist being marched off by the grim reaper are commonly invoked when someone we know has gotten a cancer diagnosis. It’s a cornerstone of America’s can-do medical culture: with the right attitude and the tools at hand, we can lick it, yes we can.

“He’s a fighter. He never loses hope. He’ll beat it,” we predict. “After her husband died, she seemed to have lost the will to live. So when the cancer came along, it just took her,” we tell ourselves.

Sadly, the equation seems to be only half right — bad news for those who go into cancer, or respond to a difficult diagnosis, with deep and persistent sadness, anxiety or irritability. A comprehensive analysis of past studies on cancer survival and depression has found that, all other things held equal, those who suffer depressive symptoms after they are diagnosed are about 25% more likely to die of their disease than those who do not show signs of depression. And for those who are actually diagnosed with major or minor depression in the course of their cancer treatment, the risk of dying from their disease increased by 39%.

The study, which is called a meta-analysis because it aggregates the findings of a large number of similarly designed studies, is published today in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society.

The latest study linking cancer outcomes to states of mind comes less than two years after another study — this one also published in Cancer — found that among a large population of clinical trial subjects with head and neck cancers, those who reported greater emotional well-being as they dealt with their illness were no more likely to live longer than those whose mental state was less positive.

That earlier study prompted its author, University of Pennsylvania psychologist James Coyne, to suggest that patients be allowed to deal with their diagnosis in their own fashion, rather than be prodded by loved ones to “think positive” in the hopes that such thinking would make the cancer yield.

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