Living with cancer blog

Cancer and depression: When to be concerned

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. November 6, 2010

As a cancer survivor, you probably have good days and bad days when it comes to feeling well, having energy and a good sense of well-being.

However, there's a difference between the normal feelings of sadness and grief associated with a diagnosis of cancer and the symptoms of true clinical depression. Research shows that about 25 percent of people with cancer suffer from clinical depression. It's important to recognize the symptoms of depression.

If you're wondering what's considered normal and what depression is, some symptoms of clinical depression include:

  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Persistent sadness or feeling of emptiness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Loss of concentration
  • Fatigue
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior

It you experience any of these symptoms lasting for two or more weeks, and they're not caused by your cancer or medications to treat cancer, an evaluation for depression is necessary.

With a cancer diagnosis, it may be difficult to tell whether fatigue or appetite loss is due to depression or to the treatment of cancer; their presence along with other symptoms strongly indicates a diagnosis of clinical depression.

Recognizing depression in a person with cancer is not easy. Many times, the same symptoms are attributed to the cancer itself, or to the side effects of treatment. It's not uncommon to feel a sense of loss, sadness, anxiety and withdrawal after first receiving a diagnosis of cancer. However, it's important to seek help if these feelings last longer than a few weeks and interfere with your usual functioning.

Early diagnosis and treatment of depression is vital to your recovery to help ease the symptoms, increase your quality of life, and most importantly, help you successfully participate in cancer treatment.

If you're a cancer survivor and have experienced depression, please feel free to share your experience on this topic with others.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Follow on Twitter: @SherylNess1

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Nov. 06, 2010