Even after a successful therapy, many breast cancer patients remain very stressed for a long time. In a study involving more than 4,000 women, researchers at the German Cancer Research Centre (German acronym: DKFZ) have shown that patients who have been on therapy for 5 to 15 years often suffer from depression. This shows how important it is not to neglect the emotional and psychological well-being of women under treatment.
Breast cancer is still the most common form of cancer in women. Worldwide, physicians diagnose more than two million new cases every year; in Germany alone, about 69,000 patients are diagnosed with this disease every year. At the same time, however, the chances of survival are improving thanks to improving diagnosis and therapy. But even after successful treatment, the quality of life of many affected people is still hindered for a long time. They suffer, for example, from the chronic fatigue syndrome or from muscle and joint pain caused by therapy. Many of those affected also complain of depression.
"While the occurrence of depression within the first five years after breast cancer therapy has already been quite well researched, little is known about the frequency of depression in long-term survivors," says Volker Arndt, epidemiologist at the DKFZ. "We wanted to know what role depression still plays in patients many years after successful cancer treatment, and what factors might influence this".
The DKFZ epidemiologists around Arndt examined a total of 3,100 breast cancer survivors whose therapy had been discontinued between 5 and 16 years ago for signs of depression. For comparison, they included 1,005 women without a corresponding cancer in their study. "We found that long-term survivors whose therapy time frame was between 5 and 15 years ago, were more likely to suffer from depression than women who had never had breast cancer," says main study author Daniela Doege. Particularly affected were women that suffered from cancer reappearance or in whom metastases had been found. Other risk factors were higher age, overweight, and an abandoned profession. "However, we cannot explain how the individual factors influence the risk of depression on the basis of our study," says Doege.
But even if the exact causes for the increased risk of depression cannot be determined at present, the study result contains an important message: "Our data show how important it is that physicians treating breast cancer patients, especially those with metastases or recurrent tumors, do not just treat the purely oncological symptoms," says Arndt. "It is also crucial to keep an eye on the psychological condition of the affected patients and to offer help if necessary".
Daniela Doege, Melissa S Y Thong, Lena Koch-Gallenkamp, Lina Jansen, Heike Bertram, Andrea Eberle, Bernd Holleczek, Ron Pritzkuleit, Annika Waldmann, Sylke R Zeissig, Hermann Brenner, Volker Arndt: Age-specific prevalence and determinants of depression in long-term breast cancer survivors compared to female population controls Cancer Medicine 2020, DOI: 10,1002/cam4,3476