Depression may make chemotherapy less effective, finds study

Depression may make chemotherapy less effective, finds study

As soon as a patient is diagnosed with cancer, his heart starts to sink and he feels as if the life is slipping out of his hands. The horror that cancer produces, in most cases, translates into depression and stress. According to the National Health Interview Survey for the period 2010-2013 conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), involving cancer survivors and adults with no history of cancer, about 14 percent cancer survivors were reported to be taking medicine for depression while 17 percent survivors were found to be taking medicine for anxiety. Moreover, around 19 percent of the participants with a history of cancer were taking medicines for both depression and anxiety. Overall, the United States inhabits around 2.5 million cancer survivors who are on medication for anxiety or depression.

With cancer comes in tow the baggage full of hopelessness, distress and loss of purpose in life. It affects not only the patients but their friends and family as well and continues to haunt them for even years after the condition is treated. In addition to decreased quality of life associated with cancer-related depression and anxiety, researchers have recently reported an adverse effect of depression on the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

Low levels of brain-boosting protein slows down response to cancer drugs

In a research presented at the European Society For Medical Oncology (ESMO) Asia 2016 Congress in December 2016, researchers have discovered the role of a brain-boosting protein, called as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), in improving people’s response to chemotherapy. Located in the regions of the brain, the BDNF protein helps in the management of processes including eating, drinking and body weight. In addition, this protein regulates growth, maturation (differentiation) and maintenance of nerve cells.

The present study reported an association between the amounts of BDNF in the blood of cancer patients suffering from depression and their decreased response to chemotherapy. Patients with low levels of BDNF protein were also found to be less responsive to cancer drugs while experiencing decreased tolerance to side effects of cancer treatment.

Yufeng Wu, the lead author and head of oncology, department of internal medicine, Affiliated Cancer Hospital of Zhengzhou University, Henan Cancer Hospital, Zhengzhou, China, and his teammates wanted to understand how people with advanced lung cancer fared under depression. Wu said, “Our aim now is to prescribe drugs such as fluoxetine to depressed patients and study their sensitivity to chemotherapy.”

Cancer patients are generally low due to their concerns about treatment outcome. Since BDNF plays key roles in maintaining healthy brain function, low levels of this protein can worsen their mental health. Results further highlighted higher depression symptoms in people whose cancer had spread to other organs. These people also reported a severely impaired tolerance to chemotherapy with increased side effects including vomiting, reduction in white blood cells and prolonged hospital stays. The low levels of the protein in the blood of patients suffering from severe depression were also found to impair body’s ability to fight and survive cancer.

Talking about the results of the research, Ravindran Kanesvaran, consultant medical oncologist and assistant professor, Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore, concludes, “This finding can perhaps lead to new ways to treat depression in these patients which in turn may prolong their lives. Further research is needed to establish the effects of different anti-depressant drugs on BDNF levels.”

Helping cancer patients suffering from depression

Since mental health is an important factor in improving treatment outcome of cancer, patients with depression should be encouraged to seek treatment until symptoms improve. Family and caregivers should encourage the patients to indulge in activities that they find interesting. Physical activity such as daily walks and participating in self-help groups also help patients stay positive. It is recommended to meet mental health professionals if symptoms persist or worsen. Any mental disorder, if left untreated, deteriorates physical health too.

If you or a loved one is suffering from depression, seek the assistance of experts at the Texas Depression Treatment Help for information on depression treatment centers in Texas. These centers are equipped with modern facilities and experienced therapists who help an individual become sober again. For instant help, you may even chat online or call our 24/7 helpline number 866-827-0282.