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The Mind/Body Connection: How Cancer Affects Mental Health
Identifying Depression in a Cancer Patient

Identifying Depression
Emotions like sadness, anxiety, and fear are normal reactions experienced when receiving a diagnosis of cancer. Similarly, learning that your loved one has been diagnosed with cancer can be equally emotionally difficult.

While there are many ways to make coping with cancer and the phases of treatment easier, including getting support from others, sometimes the intensive emotional and physical aspects of cancer can result in a patient and/or their family members becoming clinically depressed.

According to the National Cancer Institute, two major myths about people battling cancer are: 1) all people with cancer are depressed, and 2) depression in people with cancer is normal. It can be difficult to distinguishing between what is considered a normal level of distress related to the development of a serious medical condition and symptoms that develop which indicate true depression and may require treatment.

Your oncologist or other primary care provider can utilize Butler Hospital's Outpatient Consultative Services, which provide an expert evaluation and consultation to your provider to help determine if the level of your symptoms require medical interventionand/or help develop a plan to alleviate symptoms.

Barriers to indentifying depression in patients with cancer:

  • Distinguishing between side effects of cancer treatment, such as appetite changes, insomnia, lack of energy and concentration, from similar symptoms caused by depression can be difficult without the help of a physician that specializes in mood disorders.
  • Patients may not always be comfortable disclosing feelings of depression or anxiety to their primary cancer treatment provider due to stigma or concern that their oncologist may not provide treatment for those symptoms.Barriers Identifying Depression

The kind of specialized assessment provided by consultants at Butler Hospital is necessary to better understand the contributing factors of a patient's emotional condition and to determine whether or not treatment for depression and anxiety is indicated. This includes identifying clinical markers for depression, such as feelings of guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, insomnia, substance abuse, and suicidality, and distinguishing them from similar side effects from cancer treatments. Additionally, because depression in patients with cancer can occur at anytime, regular screening for depression should be part of the continuum of cancer treatment and care.

Intervention and Treatment

Many people are better able to better cope with cancer and treatment with the help of a strong support system--talking with friends, family, clergy, or joining a support group. Treatment for anxiety and depression may include a combination of talk therapy, medication, and other behavioral interventions when appropriate.

If you think you may be depressed or suffering from an anxiety disorder, a good place to start is by talking about it with your primary care physician and oncologist. If you are unsure how much your mood is being affected, you can also take Butler Hospital's free, confidential online depression screening.

The ultimate goal is to treat the whole person, body and mind, increasing their quality of life and improving health outcomes.


Weinberger, Tal, Anique Forrester, Dimitri Markov, Keira Chism, and Elisabeth J.S. Kunkel. "Women at a Dangerous Intersection: Diagnosis and Treatment of Depression and Related Disorders in Patients with Breast Cancer." Psychiatric Clinics of North America 33.2 (2010): 409-22. Print.

Artherholt, Samantha B., and Jesse R. Fann. "Psychosocial Care in Cancer Patients." Curr. Psychiatry Rep (2012): 14:23-29. Print.

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