A recent UK study looked at depression in cancer patients with the goal of identifying which patients had the highest risk and how many were receiving treatment. Many were depressed, and the majority of them were not being treated.
But, the study authors noted, mental health screenings could improve these patients' care.
"If you have cancer, talk to your oncologist about depression."
To learn more about cancer patients and depression, Jane Walker, PhD, of the University of Oxford, and colleagues studied data from more than 21,000 cancer patients. They found that depression was common among these patients.
"Our findings suggest that major depression is substantially more common in people with cancer than in the general population," the authors wrote.
The patients first completed a survey about their emotional health. Then, they were interviewed to determine whether they were depressed and if they were receiving treatment.
Of the depressed patients, 73 percent were not being treated for depression.
In an accompanying editorial, David Kissane, MD, of Monash University in Victoria, Australia, noted that cancer patients with depression were 17 percent more likely to die than those who were not depressed.
"Depression predicted shorter survival of patients with leukemia and lymphoma, and breast, lung, and brain cancers, as well as in mixed tumor studies," he wrote.
The study authors found that patients with lung cancer were the most likely to be depressed (13.1 percent), followed by gynecological cancer (10.9 percent), breast cancer (9.3 percent) and colorectal cancer patients (7 percent).
The study authors and Dr. Kissane called for a new approach to care for cancer patients' mental health — including mental health screenings and specialized care.
"An integrated collaborative care model using the support of specially trained nurses, primary care doctors, and psychiatrists can greatly improve outcomes for depressed patients with cancer compared with usual care," Dr. Kissane wrote.
The study authors noted that, starting in 2015, the American College of Surgeons' Commission on Cancer will be requiring US cancer centers to screen patients for depression, which could lead to improved care.
The study and editorial were published online Aug. 27 in The Lancet Psychiatry.
Cancer Research UK and the Scottish government's Chief Scientist Office funded the research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.