In a new study from the University of Southampton, researchers highlighted the prevalence of depression in bowel cancer patients up to five years after surgery to treat their cancer.
They found over a third of patients experienced clinically significant depression during the course of the study, with one in seven still experiencing symptoms five years after undergoing surgery.
In the study, the team surveyed 872 adult patients with non-metastatic colorectal cancer before surgery and conducted follow-up surveys at regular intervals until 60 months post-surgery.
The results of the survey showed that before surgery over a fifth of participants (21%) reported clinically significant levels of depression, which reduced to 14% at five years.
Risk factors identified before surgery that predict subsequent depression were pre-existing clinically significant depression and anxiety, previous mental health service use, low confidence to manage illness-related problems, poor health, and low social support.
Further analysis of the findings suggests that people with bowel cancer who have reduced levels of social support are nearly 2.5 times more likely to also have depression.
Among participants with the highest levels of social support at diagnosis, 16% developed clinical levels of depression within five years of their cancer treatment, compared with 37% of those with lower levels of social support.
While the above results are based on people’s experiences pre-COVID, evidence suggests the social isolation linked to the pandemic could be further worsening the mental health of people with cancer.
The new findings also showed that people with bowel cancer who had undergone neoadjuvant chemotherapy were also more likely to experience depression, perhaps explained by the fact these patients usually face more complex treatment, side effects and increased treatment time.
The team says depression in people living with cancer can lead to poor health and wellbeing and this has an impact on long-term outcomes.
Recognizing those colorectal cancer patients who are at a higher risk and referring them to the right support services could therefore lead to overall improved outcomes for patients.
For more information about mental health, please see recent studies about the mental problem that’s second only to age as biggest risk factor for COVID-19 death, and results showing that key mental abilities can actually improve when we get older.
The study is published in the journal Colorectal Disease. One author of the study is Dr. Lynn Calman.
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