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Cancer patients ‘have 13-fold increased risk of depression’

GPs should be alert to ‘emotional distress’ in patients with a recent diagnosis of cancer, as they are much more likely to develop anxiety problems or depression, say UK researchers.

The study used data from 173 general practices in Scotland, obtained from the Primary Care Clinical Informatics Unit.  Cases were 18 years of age with a diagnosis of cancer, matched to controls with no cancer, depression or anxiety diagnosis. A total of 7,298 cancer cases and 14,596 controls were included in the final analysis.

They found patients with cancer were 13 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression and 14 times more likely to develop anxiety within a year of diagnosis, compared with matched controls.

 They were also four times more likely to excessively consume alcohol, compared with non-cancer patients. They were also prescribed significantly more psychotropic drugs than non-cancer patients.

The researchers concluded: ‘All health professionals, in primary and secondary care, should be alert to emotional distress in patients with cancer and ensure psychological health is discussed and treated.’

British Journal of Cancer 2012, available online 11 October