A systematic review of pharmacologic treatment efficacy for depression in older patients with cancer

Brain Behav Immun Health. 2022 Mar 23:21:100449. doi: 10.1016/j.bbih.2022.100449. eCollection 2022 May.


Background: Older adults ≥65 years of age represent the majority of new cancer diagnoses and are vulnerable to developing depression-like symptoms. Evaluation and management of depression in older cancer patients is underappreciated despite its high prevalence and impact on health-related quality of life. Although antidepressants are the primary pharmacologics used to treat depressive-like symptoms, the efficacy and overall benefit(s) are not well-characterized in older adult patients with cancer. The objective of this investigation was to review what is known about the efficacy of pharmacologic treatment for older adults with depression and cancer.

Methods: PubMed (Medline) and EMBASE (Elsevier) databases were analyzed for relevant literature in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines.

Results: 1,919 unique studies were identified for title and abstract screening. Forty-eight publications were retrieved for full review. None of the identified studies evaluated the potential for benefit after pharmacological treatment among older adults with cancer and depression. Twenty-seven publications met all study criteria except for an analysis focused on older patients.

Conclusion: We discovered a universal absence of literature with a relevance to pharmacologic antidepressant treatment effects in older adult patients with cancer. This included a lack of evaluation in patients with brain tumors who have an unusually high predilection for developing depression. Our findings suggest that new research is critically needed for understanding optimal clinical management strategies in older adults with cancer and depression who are treated with antidepressants.

Keywords: Aging; Breast; Elderly; Glioblastoma; Lung; Neuroinflammation; Prostate; SSRI; Senescence.

Publication types

  • Review