Even mild depression among patients with head and neck cancer are associated with poorer overall survival, a new study has said. The findings of the study indicated that patients should be screened and treated for depressive symptoms at the time of diagnosis.
“We observed that patients with depressive symptoms suffered greater two-year overall mortality rates and this was especially true for those who did not achieve optimal response to medical treatment,” said study co-author Elizabeth Cash from the University of Louisville School of Medicine.
According to the researchers, many patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer experience symptoms of depression, which can make it difficult for them to manage treatment side effects, quit smoking, or maintain adequate nutrition or sleep habits. To see if depressive symptoms might affect patients’ health outcomes, researchers studied 134 patients with head and neck cancers who reported depressive symptoms during the planning of their treatment.
When they examined the patients’ clinical data over the following two years, they found that patients with greater depressive symptoms had shorter survival, higher rates of chemoradiation interruption and poorer treatment response.
Poorer treatment response partially explained the depression-survival relationship; however, there were no significant effects from factors commonly used to determine cancer prognosis — such as the patient’s age, the stage of tumour advancement or extent of smoking history. “This suggests that depressive symptoms may be as powerful as the clinical features that physicians typically use to determine the prognosis of patients with head and neck cancer,” Cash added.
The researchers noted that most patients in the study, published in the journal CANCER, did not meet criteria for diagnosis of major depressive disorder, suggesting that even mild symptoms of depression may interfere with head and neck cancer treatment outcomes.