Cancer patients with depression likely to experience disabling symptoms

Those who know cancer also know a variety of side effects and symptoms: some painful, and some that are more annoying than anything else. But a new report out of the Regenstrief Institute, Inc. and Indiana University in Indianapolis states that cancer patients who suffer from depression may also experience as many as 22 other side effects, including chronic pain and fatigue.

Dr. Kurt Kroenke, who participated in the study, screened over four hundred cancer patients who had reported pain or depression. He presented them with 22 side effects, and asked them if they experienced any of them. More than half said “Yes” to at least fifteen of the side effects, and all of the patients studied said “Yes” to at least one.

Almost 98% of cancer sufferers studied said they experienced fatigue. Close to 80% had difficulty sleeping, and about the same percentage reported pain in their joints and/or limbs. Over 70% said they had issues with memory loss [remember our recent post about Chemo Brain?] and 75% were struggling with back pain. Patients with cancer and depression also reported that they spent an average of 5.6 days in bed and approximately 11 days of limited activity due to their side effects within a four-week period.

Dr. Kroenke, who had his findings published in yesterday’s issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, says that, all too often, the aforementioned “somatic symptoms” are not handled properly by a cancer patient’s oncologist.

Feeling tired and depressed? Tell your doctor.

“This study strengthens the case for improving the recognition and treatment” of these 22 symptoms, he believes. The presence of these symptoms often renders a cancer patient disabled, causing them to take time off from work and make frequent – and expensive – trips to the doctor. Many suffer so much as a result of these somatic symptoms that they are forced to visit the emergency room.

In order for a cancer patient to be able to maintain some quality of life while fighting their disease, doctors must address the patient’s “secondary symptoms,” which include all of the above. Chronic fatigue, however, is one of the most common issues faced by those who know cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. As many as 96% of patients with cancer face fatigue, and if ignored, this can become a serious detriment to a patient’s treatment.

The most important thing to remember, according to researchers and treatment experts, is that a person who knows cancer must not hesitate to report any and all symptoms and side effects to their doctor. This way, everyone is on the same page, and all secondary somatic symptoms can be addressed immediately.


National Cancer Institute

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