Breast cancer patients receiving postoperative radiotherapy: distress, depressive symptoms and unmet needs of psychosocial support

Radiother Oncol. 2011 Aug;100(2):299-303. doi: 10.1016/j.radonc.2011.01.014. Epub 2011 Feb 11.


Background and purpose: The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer can cause considerable psychological consequences, which may remain unrecognized and untreated. In this study, the prevalence of depressive symptoms and distress, and unmet needs for psychosocial support were assessed among breast cancer patients receiving postoperative radiotherapy.

Material and methods: Out of 389 consecutive patients, 276 responded and comprised the final study group. Depressive symptoms were assessed with the Beck Depression Inventory. Distress was measured with the Distress Thermometer. Hospital records of the patients were examined for additional information.

Results: Nearly one third of patients (32.1%) displayed depressive symptoms, and more than a quarter of patients (28.4%) experienced distress. Younger age (p=0.001) and negative hormone receptor status (p=0.008) were independent factors associated with distress. One quarter of the patients expressed an unmet need for psychosocial support, which was independently associated with depressive symptoms and/or distress (p=0.001) and younger age (p=0.006).

Conclusions: During radiotherapy for breast cancer, the staff should have awareness of the higher risk of depression and distress in their patients and should consider screening tools to recognise distress and depressive symptoms. Special attention should be paid to younger patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Breast Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Support*