Depression tied to poor lung cancer outcomes

Lung cancer patients who experience anxiety and depression are more likely to die sooner, according to a new study by researchers from the University of British Columbia and BC Cancer Agency in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

The question of whether anxiety and depression can affect survival has been a topic of interest to scientists for decades, but long-term research has been limited, said Andrea Vodermaier, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow in the University of British Columbia's department of psychology. A previous study undertaken in breast cancer patients furthered scientists' understanding of the effect of psychosocial factors on survival rates for cancer patients.

The current study included 684 patients undergoing treatment for stage III non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which has a survival rate of just 30% to 46% after the first year. Patients completed a psychological screening questionnaire. After controlling for age, sex, ethnicity, and cancer characteristics, the researchers found a small effect that linked anxiety and depression with shorter survival (J Pain Symptom Manage, January 4, 2017).

However, the research did not assess whether high anxiety or depression directly caused the worse outcomes.

"It is likely that other unmeasured factors that correlate with high anxiety and depression, such as less social support, could play a role," said senior author Dr. Robert Olson. "However, the relationship that we found is significant, and certainly worth further exploration into whether interventions to improve anxiety and depression in lung cancer patients can improve survival rates."

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