Prevalence, associations, and adequacy of treatment of major depression in patients with cancer: a cross-sectional analysis of routinely collected clinical data

Lancet Psychiatry. 2014 Oct;1(5):343-50. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(14)70313-X. Epub 2014 Aug 28.


Background: Major depression is an important complication of cancer. However, reliable data are lacking for the prevalence of depression in patients with cancer in different primary sites, the association of depression with demographic and clinical variables within cancer groupings, and the proportion of depressed patients with cancer receiving potentially effective treatment for depression. We investigated these questions with data from a large representative clinical sample.

Methods: We analysed data from patients with breast, lung, colorectal, genitourinary, or gynaecological cancer who had participated in routine screening for depression in cancer clinics in Scotland, UK between May 12, 2008, and Aug 24, 2011. Depression screening was done in two stages (first, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale; then, major depression section of the Structured Clinical Interview for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition). Data for depression status were linked with demographic and clinical data obtained from the Scottish National Cancer Registry.

Findings: We analysed data for 21 151 patients. The prevalence of major depression was highest in patients with lung cancer (13·1%, 95% CI 11·9-14·2%), followed by gynaecological cancer (10·9%, 9·8-12·1), breast cancer (9·3%, 8·7-10·0), colorectal cancer (7·0%, 6·1-8·0), and genitourinary cancer (5·6%, 4·5-6·7). Within these cancer groupings, a diagnosis of major depression was more likely in patients who were younger, had worse social deprivation scores, and, for lung cancer and colorectal cancer, female patients. 1130 (73%) of 1538 patients with depression and complete patient-reported treatment data were not receiving potentially effective treatment.

Interpretation: Major depression is common in patients attending cancer clinics and most goes untreated. A pressing need exists to improve the management of major depression for patients attending specialist cancer services.

Funding: Cancer Research UK and Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government.