London | People suffering from depression are less likely to recover well after treatment for colorectal cancer compared to those without depression, according to a new study. Researchers from Macmillan Cancer Support and the University of Southampton in the UK found that one in 5 colorectal cancer patients are depressed at the time of diagnosis.
These people are 7 times more likely to have ‘very poor health’, which could include severe difficulty in walking around or being confined to bed two years after treatment has ended compared to those without depression, researchers said. They are also 13 times more likely to have ‘very poor quality of life’, which could include problems with thinking and memory or sexual functioning, they said.
Previous research has shown that more than half a million people who have received a cancer diagnosis are also living with a mental health issue, such as depression. Unless people undergoing cancer treatment are asked about other illnesses, concerns and worries by their healthcare professionals, mental health issues may get missed and they could lose out on vital support, researchers said.
The study, which is the largest of its kind, is following the lives of more than a thousand colorectal cancer patients from before surgery until at least five years afterwards. It assesses their recovery by measuring indicators of health, quality of life and wellbeing. This research tells us that having depression has an enormous impact on how people live after their cancer treatment, said Jane Maher from Macmillan Cancer Support.
In fact, it affects their recovery more than whether or not they have been diagnosed early. We know that depression and anxiety often go hand in hand with cancer but now we can see the extent to which people are struggling to live with these illnesses, said Maher. Colorectal cancer can have some difficult physical consequences, such as incontinence and sexual difficulties – it is more than enough for anyone to have to deal with. Mental health issues can be a real barrier to people getting better, he added.
Our study has highlighted the importance of taking into account psychological factors when thinking about how best to support patients recently diagnosed with colorectal cancer, said Claire Foster from University of Southampton. We have shown that self-reported depression before cancer treatment starts predicts quality of life and health status during treatment and up to two years later, she said.