Background: Over the past thirty years a number of studies have suggested that antidepressants can be effective in the treatment of depressive symptoms in patients with cancer. The aim of this paper was to review randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and to perform a meta-analysis in order to quantify their overall effect.
Methods: Pubmed and the Cochrane libraries were searched for the time period between 1980 and 2010.
Results: Nine RCTs were identified and reviewed. Six of them (with a total of 563 patients) fulfilled the criteria for meta-analysis, but exhibited an unclear risk for bias. The estimated effect size was 1.56 with 95% CI: 1.07- 2.28 (p= 0.021). There were no differences in discontinuation rates between antidepressants and placebo groups (RR= 0.86 with 95% CI 0.47- 1.56, p=0.62).
Conclusions: This meta-analysis suggests that antidepressants can be effective in treating depressive symptoms beside clinical depression. When considering the risk of side effects and interactions and the heterogeneity among the mostly small studies, a general recommendation cannot be made until well-controlled studies are conducted.