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Links between depression and breast cancer

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A new study has highlighted a significant correlation between depression and mortality, with studies indicating a 50% increased risk of all-cause mortality in patients with depression compared to non-depressed patients with stage I-III breast cancer.

A team of researchers in Russia have conducted a comprehensive analysis of existing research on the prevalence and impact of depression in breast cancer patients.

Presented at the European Psychiatric Association Congress 2024, the study found a wide range in the reported prevalence of depression among breast cancer patients, varying from 4.5% to 38% across different studies.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and a leading cause of death globally and in the EU, it is estimated that 1 in 11 women in the EU-27 will develop breast cancer before the age of 74.

The psychological impact of breast cancer is well documented and previous studies have estimated that, globally, 32% of breast cancer sufferers also live with depression.

Despite the improvements in screening, diagnostics and treatment of breast cancer, patients are still not properly screened for mental health conditions and often do not receive adequate support.

Key findings

Findings from the study revealed a 50% increased risk of all-cause mortality in patients with depression compared to non-depressed patients with stage I-III breast cancer.

They also revealed a five-fold increase in breast cancer-specific and all-cause mortality in patients with early-stage (stage I & II) cancer and depression, as well as 2.5 times greater risk of death within eight to 15 years for women with non-metastatic breast cancer and mild to moderate depressive symptoms after surgery compared to those with minimal or no depressive symptoms.

Overall, the study concludes that both depression and anxiety can negatively impact survival rates and reduce the quality of life for breast cancer patients.

Dr Ruslan A. Starostin, oncologist and breast surgeon at Druzhkov Clinic LLC, Kazan, Russia commented on the findings, stated: “Cancer, depression and anxiety disorders are closely interrelated. Our task is therefore to identify the presence of mental disorders in patients at the time of initial breast cancer diagnosis in order to begin treatment as early as possible, because the quality of life and overall survival of patients is extremely important.”

Svetlana V. Kuzmina, Professor of Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology at Kazan State Medical University in Kazan, Russia, added: “The mental health of breast cancer patients warrants such attention as malignant disease can have a negative impact on mental wellbeing, treatment adherence and quality of life.

“In the context of our investigation, we also hope to reduce the burden of disease on the daily lives of patients and their environment.”

“These findings underscore the crucial need for routine depression screening for breast cancer patients at the time of diagnosis, integrated approach to treatment that includes the involvement of mental health professions and, most importantly, increased awareness about the impact of breast cancer on mental health and the need for open communication alongside early intervention.” said Dr Julian Beezhold, the Secretary General of the European Psychiatric Association.

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