DEPRESSION can lead to a poorer prognosis in cancer patients as a result of the decreased amounts of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in their blood.
This is according to the findings of research presented at the ESMO Asia 2016 Congress in Singapore showing that patient tolerance to chemotherapy was severely decreased by depression. “It is crucial doctors pay more attention to the mood and emotional state of patients,” explained lead authour of the study, Dr Yufeng Wu, Head of Oncology, Zhengzhou University, Zhengzhou, China. “Depression can reduce the effects of chemotherapy and BDNF plays an important role in this process,” he added.
To study how depression influences treatment outcomes for patients, the researchers recruited 186 patients recently diagnosed with advanced small cell lung cancer who would go on to receive chemotherapy. Before treatment began, patients were asked to report their depression levels. Over the course of the study, the researchers collected quality of life details, overall survival, and other data to compare this information with patient mood scores.
The researchers found that BDNF resulted in a greater number of tumour cells being killed by chemotherapy. Those who suffered from depression and with lower levels of BDNF had their cancer spread to other organs and experienced a significant reduction in their tolerance to chemotherapy. Severe depression was found to reduce the length of survival in patients without the disease getting worse.
“Our aim now is to prescribe drugs such as fluoxetine to depressed patients and study their sensitivity to chemotherapy,” Dr Wu said. Commenting on the results of the study, Dr Ravindran Kanesvaran, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore said: “This finding can perhaps lead to new ways to treat depression in these patients which in turn may prolong their lives. Further research is needed to establish the effects of different anti-depressant drugs on BDNF levels.”
Jack Redden, Reporter