Reevaluating the role of antidepressants in cancer-related depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. Sep-Oct 2014;36(5):466-73. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2014.05.010. Epub 2014 May 20.


Objective: Prior reviews evaluating the role of antidepressants in cancer-related depression have drawn conflicting conclusions. These reviews have also not explored differences in efficacy and tolerability between antidepressants. We conducted a meta-analysis to address these limitations.

Method: We searched Medline (1948-2013), the Cochrane Library (1800-2013), the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (1986-2013), (2013) and meeting abstracts. We included randomized trials comparing antidepressants to placebo or no treatment for cancer-related depression. We used random effects to calculate standardized mean differences (SMD).

Results: Of 5178 potentially eligible citations, 9 trials (1169 subjects) met inclusion criteria. Trials of mianserin found a robust reduction in depression scores at ≥4 weeks of treatment (SMD: 0.60, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.24-0.95). Similar, but less robust, results were observed with paroxetine (SMD: 0.22, 95% CI: 0.01-0.42) and fluoxetine (SMD 0.34, 95% CI: 0.02-0.66). Conversely, there was no advantage with amitriptyline or desipramine. Compared to placebo, the odds of dropping out due to side effect were higher with fluoxetine and paroxetine and lower with mianserin. Methodological quality was moderate.

Conclusions: Paroxetine, fluoxetine and mianserin improve cancer-related depression but may vary in efficacy and tolerability. High-quality, randomized trials of newer antidepressant agents are needed to identify optimal treatments for managing cancer-related depression.

Keywords: Antidepressive agents; Cancer; Depression; Review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation / adverse effects
  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation / pharmacology*
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / adverse effects
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / pharmacology*
  • Depression / drug therapy*
  • Depression / etiology
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Treatment Outcome*


  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic