Many people who face cancer will also face depression. The complexities involved often seem endless; each cancer patient has unique characteristics that affect the nature of their depression, including diagnosis, prognosis, type of cancer, treatment, support resources, and many other factors. This article looks at the relationship between cancer and the dual conditions of depression/anxiety, and how medically directed home care may provide helpful treatment interventions.

The Unknowns > The Knowns

There is limited recent research devoted to the task of untangling the relationship between cancer and depression, but a comprehensive 2019 literature review summed up existing knowledge.

“Compared to the general population, the prevalence of anxiety and depression is often higher among people with cancer,” it said, while admitting that “estimates vary due to a number of factors.”

For example, the mean rate of depression in cancer patients varies from approximately 4% to 49%, the study reported, due to the type of cancer, the treatment setting, the screening tool used, and other variables. Lung cancer patients were estimated to have a 3% occurrence of depression, while patients with digestive tract cancer had a 31% rate of occurrence. The range of variables involved make quantitative, randomized studies difficult to perform.

Co-occurrence of depression and anxiety disorders

The overlap of anxiety and depression is 45%

“The Critical Relationship Between Anxiety and Depression,” a 2020 article, pointed out the frequency with which depression and anxiety overlap. The report also noted that “Both anxiety and depressive disorders are more prevalent in women, with an approximate 2:1 ratio in women compared with men during women’s reproductive years.”

The coexistence of anxiety

A 2020 American Journal of Psychiatry article indicated that globally, people who suffer from major depressive disorders also experience anxiety disorders more than 45% of the time, and they often occur simultaneously.

For people who are navigating cancer, there are many sources of anxiety, including their health status, the care they’re receiving, family dynamics, and what the future holds. Anxiety is often a constant companion that may be more or less intense depending on the circumstances.

An example: The 2019 study quoted above found that women with ovarian cancer had more anxiety during and after treatment than before it. Why? The answers are unclear, but may be related to reduced contact with doctors after treatment and, especially fear of recurrence – one of the most commonly reported anxiety-related issue.

Regardless of the exact nature of the anxiety-depression connection, anyone with a cancer diagnosis may well encounter the presence of both throughout their journey from clinical environments and, we hope, back to home, where the realities of life with cancer become clear.

Home care and how it can help address depression in patients with cancer

Medically directed home care offers a menu of actions that can help people with cancer in their everyday life. The obvious ones include medication management, transportation to healthcare appointments, and maintaining a clean environment for immuno-compromised clients.

But the person-to-person contact involved in medically directed home care holds equal value in battling depression – a fact that has become more evident during the pandemic.

“We correlate care,” said SeniorBridge Care Manager Renee Gutierrez. “We can keep medical care and mental health care on the same page. “But truthfully,” she added, “some of our most important work is just sitting with clients, being engaged with their reality and letting them know they’re not alone.”

A 2021 UCSF study reported on the “pandemic’s deep mental health impact in the oncology population.” More than 600 people with cancer were studied, and more than 50% reported feelings of loneliness, isolation, and the related symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The overlap of anxiety and depression is 45%


of oncology patients reporting loneliness/isolation

A recent UCSF study published in Cancer, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, showed that more than half of people with cancer are suffering from depression/anxiety-related symptoms. “Patients should be encouraged to maintain contact with family and friends,” one researcher said, “and structure their daily routines…through outdoor activities, as well as maintain a healthy diet and sufficient sleep.”

If you’re interested in medically directed home care and helping patients with cancer, you might want to read “6 ways home care can support oncology treatment plans.”

The integrated care management model by SeniorBridge

Home care services vary widely in the services they provide.

SeniorBridge offers an integrated care management practice model that involves two components:

  1. Clinical care (under the direction of an RNCM/Registered Nurse Care Manager) supported by a Social Worker and a team of caregivers, based on patient’s needs and
  2. A portfolio of home care services and geriatric care management in such areas as nutrition, caregiver education, benefit coordination, transportation, and coordination with discharge planners, physicians, pharmacy, home health agencies, and care managers.

NOTE: We have full COVID-19 safety protocols in place to keep clients, families and associates safe.

For more information on medically directed home care, contact SeniorBridge.

Sources consulted:
BMC Springer Nature (2019)
American Journal of Psychiatry (2020)
UCSF (2021)

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