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Depression symptoms tied to lung cancer survival, study finds

OHSU research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology shows that patients with lung cancer who have symptoms of depression have overall lower survival rates than those without depression symptoms.  The key findings demonstrates that longitudinal changes in depression symptoms during treatment are associated with mortality, and study participants who experienced remission of depression symptoms at follow-up had similar mortality as those who were never depressed.

Donald Sullivan, M.D., assistant professor of medicine (hematology/medical oncology) in the OHSU School of Medicine, affiliate researcher at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and affiliate investigator with the Portland VA, lead the research.

“I sometimes liken a cancer diagnosis to the experience of PTSD for a traumatic event. Even after a patient is in cancer remission, we need to remember that these feelings don’t go away — they are our patients for life. There is a lack of recognition that mental health is an important part of the cancer treatment continuum, and, unfortunately, lung cancer is often one of the “forgotten cancers.” This study leads you to believe that if we study depression treatments, maybe we can improve overall survival with their implementation.”

Sullivan collaborated with colleagues Linda Ganzini, M.D., M.P.H., and Christopher Slatore, M.D., both with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and OHSU VA Portland Health Care System.

The investigators received a grant from the American Lung Association to review data from the National Cancer Institute-funded CanCORS Consortium. The researchers examined outcomes among 1,800 patients newly diagnosed with lung cancer who took part in the consortium, a prospective observational study. About half of the participants reported having depression symptoms at some point during the study and those symptoms persisted in most patients.

The potential reversibility of depression symptoms and their impact on patient survival warrants further study, but if confirmed, the study authors suggest this would support the importance of effective mental health treatment as part of comprehensive cancer care.

This work was supported by the American Lung Association, the National Institutes of Health, and the VA-Portland Health Care System. 

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