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Depression Among Cancer Survivors May Double Risk of Early Death

Update Date: May 17, 2013 11:43 AM EDT

A recent study suggests that surviving cancer may be the first step. According to researchers from Tilburg University, Eindhoven Cancer Registry and the Elizabeth Hospital in the Netherlands, depression may increase the risk that cancer survivors die prematurely.

Advances in treatment and an aging population in much of the high-income world mean that more people are being diagnosed with cancer, and also that more people are living after a cancer diagnosis - either after having been cured or dealing with the disease like a chronic illness. In fact, one study published in March found that the number of cancer survivors would swell by 37 percent over the next two decades, bringing the number of cancer survivors in the United States up to 18 million.

However, the news is not so swell for all cancer survivors. According to PsychCentral, the study was based on surveys collected among 3,080 cancer survivors who had battled endometrial cancer, colorectal cancer, lymphoma or multiple myeloma. These cancers were chosen for examination during the study because they are relatively unstudied.

Researchers found that depressive symptoms were strongly associated with premature death from all causes among cancer survivors. In fact, people who had died were more likely to have suffered from depression than people who were still alive. When researchers controlled for various factors, like type of cancer; metastatis, or the spread of cancer from one organ to another part of the body; treatment; and other health conditions, researchers found that, one to 10 years after receiving an initial cancer diagnosis, cancer survivors were twice as likely to have died early.

"Paying attention to the recognition and treatment of depressive symptoms in this patient group is key. The next step is to investigate the possible mechanisms that might explain the association between depressive symptoms and death from cancer. We also need to better understand whether treatments for depressive symptoms in cancer patients have life-prolonging effects," the researchers said in a statement.

Many cancer survivors face problems from the disease and the treatments for it, including a high prevalence of depression.

The study was published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

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