Depression and cancer: recent data on clinical issues, research challenges and treatment approaches

Curr Opin Oncol. 2008 Jul;20(4):353-9. doi: 10.1097/CCO.0b013e3282fc734b.


Purpose of review: Clinical guidelines for depression screening, assessment and management in the oncologic field and palliative care are becoming paramount in routine cancer care. This psychiatric comorbidity has several impacts on quality of life, anticancer treatment compliance, hospital stay duration, health-care costs, morbidity and possibly mortality even if discordant reports exist.

Recent findings: Recent development of brain imaging techniques (MRI, positron emission tomography), neurobiological and genetic tools allow new understanding of the pathophysiology process of depressive disorders in cancer populations besides the usual endocrinologic and psychoneuroimmunologic hypothesis. Broader indications besides depressive or anxiety disorders appear or must be investigated for the new generation of antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, noradrenergic specific serotonergic antidepressants) in oncology, such as hot flashes, neuropathic pain, fatigue, anorexia/cachexia. Psychosocial interventions seem to have a slight impact on well-being, quality of life and depressive symptomatology but not on survival.

Summary: The present article reviews recent literature on depression and cancer and highlights practical assessment and detection of depression, biological and physiopathological correlates and its pharmacologic and psychosocial treatment. Implementation of these several techniques must be supported by ongoing research about the complex relation between depressive disorders and generally mental health and oncology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*