One in four patients with any cancer diagnosis may experience depression.
The risk of developing depression is particularly high in patients with head & neck cancer. Even though nearly 50% of patients with head & neck cancer experience symptoms of depression, this problem is often under recognized or ignored.
Factors predisposing to risk of depression in patients with head & neck cancer include:
- Stress-related to diagnosis
- Treatment-related side effects
- Disfigurement & loss of self-esteem
- Loss of function (speech, swallowing, smell, taste, etc.)
- Poor nutrition & weight loss
- Disruption of daily life patterns
- Loss of intimacy
- Disrupted sleep due to side-effects of treatment for cancer (e.g., dry mouth, pain, etc.)
Many patients may also experience addiction to tobacco, alcohol, and other substances, which can increase the risk of depression during treatment.
Patients with head & neck cancer and depression experience:
- Three times higher risk for suicide
- Poor quality of life
- Higher chance of not completing treatment
- Increased risk for death
However, depression can be avoided. The following measures may help:
- Be aware of the increased risk for depression and its symptoms in patients with head & neck cancer. Symptoms may include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, irritability, or anxiety
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, or shame
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies/activities
- Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down” (also a side effect of radiation)
- Difficulty with concentration, memory, decision making (also a side effect of chemotherapy)
- Loss of sleep, early morning awakening, oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes (gain or loss, though loss is also a side effect of cancer treatment)
- Thoughts of death, self-harm; suicide attempts
- Restlessness, or other persistent physical symptoms
- Discuss role of prevention with your medical or behavioral health providers
- Consider meeting with a behavioral health provider to discuss coping with cancer diagnosis and treatment. Behavioral therapy and counseling may be helpful in management of depression.
- Based on recommendations by your health care providers, anti-depressant medications may be useful in prevention of depression in patients newly diagnosed with head & neck cancer.
These measures may significantly reduce risk of depression and improve quality of life
Break the silence and ask for help! You are not alone and help is available.
What can help?
- Talk about it: Conquer fear with information
- Engage social support
- Join a support group
- Ask your medical provider for help
- Behavioral health consultation
- Assistance with substance abuse issues
- Psychotherapy (learn new skills for coping with cancer)
- Antidepressant medications: Ask your doctor, if medication for prevention or treatment of depression is right for you
If you need urgent help, please call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org