Psychological distress (depression and anxiety) in people with head and neck cancers

Med J Aust. 2010 Sep 6;193(S5):S48-51. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2010.tb03928.x.


Objective: To assess symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients with head and neck cancers (HNCs) before and after radiotherapy.

Design, participants and setting: Prospective observational study of 102 outpatients with HNCs at a tertiary cancer centre in Melbourne between 1 May 2008 and 30 May 2009. Eligibility criteria were a first-time diagnosis of HNC, age over 17 years, and agreement to undergo cancer treatment involving radiotherapy with curative intent. Data were collected before commencement of radiotherapy and again 3 weeks after completing treatment.

Main outcome measures: Symptoms of depression and anxiety as assessed by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS); physical and psychosocial aspects of quality of life as assessed by the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Head and Neck (FACT-H&N).

Results: Seventy-five participants completed pretreatment and posttreatment questionnaires. Mean depression scores increased significantly from before to after treatment, while anxiety scores decreased significantly over the same period. The prevalence of mild to severe depression was 15% before treatment and 31% after treatment. The prevalence of mild to severe symptoms of anxiety was 30% before treatment, reducing to 17% after treatment. Posttreatment depression was predicted by pretreatment depression and receiving chemotherapy. Posttreatment anxiety was predicted by pretreatment anxiety and male sex.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that rates of depression in patients with HNCs increase after cancer treatment, with a third of patients experiencing clinically significant symptoms of depression after radiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Causality
  • Comorbidity
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / psychology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Outpatients / statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Regression Analysis
  • Severity of Illness Index