A breast cancer diagnosis is one of the toughest moments in any woman’s life. It can cause feelings of extreme anxiety, sadness and fear. Clearly, these kinds of feelings are natural and relatively unavoidable for most any woman who is diagnosed. A new study, however, exposes an even sadder truth to women who might be suffering from depression at the time of diagnosis. The study performed by researchers at King’s College London studied 77,173 women in South East England diagnosed with breast cancer between 2000 and 2009 and followed them until the end of 2010.
The link between a new diagnosis of depression and survival remained after researchers took into account factors such as older age at cancer diagnosis, how advanced the cancer was at diagnosis, socioeconomic status and having other diseases. After taking these factors into account, the relative risk of death over the follow-up period — called a hazard ratio — was 1.45 times, or 45%, higher than for women without depression recorded in that time.
The study measured death from all causes, so this decreased survival with depression could have been linked to an impact on cancer progression or to the many other effects of depression that can increase risk of death (source).
Cancer of any sort is an incredibly difficult time in any person’s life. This study confirms what our intuition has always guided us to understand: depression likely weakens our immune systems and takes away our will to live. I am not claiming to be an expert on that specific matter, but I can say with great confidence that if you or someone you know is going through breast cancer, positivism is at a premium. That’s clearly a lot easier said than it is done, but I do believe it to be a blueprint to strive for. Thinking positive, surrounding yourself with happiness, is far better than allowing the disease to own you. If you do suffer from depression and are diagnosed, do not be afraid to talk to someone about it, whether professional or family or friend. Seek out help. A study such as this one confirms the importance of such actions.
If you know someone diagnosed with depression, but sure to be in tune with them. Clearly, the diagnosis will bring on some depression, but it is important to realize when it may be too overwhelming for the person. It is also important to note if the person has a prior history of depression. Encouraging a depressed person to get help or treatment could be the survival nudge they need. In the end, just be aware and use your instincts and judgement.
We are all in this battle together, soldiers in the war to fight this atrocious and devastating disease. It can be beaten and often is beaten. Keep your perspective in a good place if at all possible.
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