[MOL] Depression and Cancer.... [00325] Medicine On Line


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[MOL] Depression and Cancer....



Changes in Mood: A Primer on Depression and Cancer
By Walter Baile, M.D.

The topic of depression is of concern to many cancer patients and questions such as the following often arise: How does one know when he or she is depressed? Is there a relationship between depression and cancer? Did depression cause my cancer? How can depression be treated? To address these important issues, here are the basics on depression and cancer.

How common is depression?

Depression is the most common psychiatric illness found in the general population. It is said that as many as 8 percent of Americans will have had a depressive illness sometime in the course of their lifetime. In cancer patients, depression seems even more frequent. As many as 10 to 15 percent of patients are likely to experience depression at some point during their illness.

What is depression?

The term depression can be confusing because it actually has several meanings. First of all, depression is a mood or feeling. When a person looks sad and dejected we say he is depressed. In this case, depression is a common emotion that often occurs in response to disappointment, such as when a person doesn't get a promotion that was anticipated.

The mood depression is also closely related to feelings of discouragement and frustration. To an observer, a person with a depressed mood may mope around, not feel like socializing or even have no appetite for a few days. In this instance, depression refers to a normal variant of mood, which is part of the ups and downs of life. This mood disturbance may be transient or may last days or longer. Affected individuals may respond to encouragement from others. This is the idea behind support groups.

Having a depressed mood is an unpleasant state, but many individuals find ways to cope. Using the example of our person who did not get the promotion, he or she might take positive action to feel better, such as meeting with a supervisor to determine how performance could be improved. Of course, there are also unhealthy ways of dealing with the situation, such as getting intoxicated or shifting blame to someone else. In any case, to a great extent we all have some control over how we cope with this kind of depression that occurs in the course of everyday life.

Depression may also be associated with grief or loss of something valued. Grief is a common emotion among cancer patients who must deal with many losses: psychological losses such as security about the future; physical losses such as those that may occur from cancer surgery or hair loss from chemotherapy; and financial losses due to the expense of cancer treatment. As in the case of depressed mood, feelings of grief may be very short-lived or they may last for days or weeks.

The term depression may also refer to a disorder called clinical depression or depressive illness. Depressive illness is more than just a mood or feeling sad. In fact, in diagnosing the presence of a clinical depression, feelings of sadness do not even have to be present. Sound strange? Well, it is. It is also a dilemma because some people who are clinically depressed do not recognize their problem and professionals who are in the position of treating depression may also not recognize it.

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