The link between depression and a terminal diagnosis of cancer

While there are many interlinking factors that can contribute to depression, a diagnosis of
depression also has many implications. However, let’s look at the link between depression and a
terminal diagnosis. A terminal diagnosis is not something to take lightly and the news that fills your
ears for the first time might lead to uncertainty and unknown feelings. Although it may be thought
that many people who have a diagnosis of cancer would probably have a co-morbid diagnosis of
depression and anxiety, this comorbidity is not inevitable.

There are many studies being conducted on the link between depression and a terminal diagnosis,
since to date the statistics are insufficient or estimates of prevalence are imprecise. These studies
tend to have no distinction between the cancer phases such as: a recent diagnosis, active treatment,
survivorship, a stable metastatic disease, at the end-stage of life or they fail to operationally define
the “end-life phase” care. Being in each of these phases may impact the results of the study. So far,
with the statistics and estimates that are available, it has been established that 15% to 50% of
cancer patients do experience depression and anxiety symptoms. From these results, 5% to 20%
could meet the diagnostic criteria of major depressive disorder.

When at the ‘end-life’ phase of cancer, it is uncertain whether these patients who are indeed
diagnosed with depression, would be treated for depression. Only a very small number of controlled
clinical trials have been conducted with cancer patients diagnosed with depression and anxiety,
when they are in their terminal- or end phase of their illness.

Unfortunately, in most cases, the diagnosis of depression and/or anxiety on terminal cancer patients
that is left untreated may cause patients to fall into an endless pit of waiting for their last breath. Let us look out for each other to make the bearing a little lighter.