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Br J Cancer. 2006 Feb 13;94(3):372-90.

The effectiveness of treatment for depression/depressive symptoms in adults with cancer: a systematic review.

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Division of Health in the Community, Centre for Primary Health Care Studies, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK.


Depression is common in cancer patients, and this often remains undetected and untreated. Depression has been associated with poorer quality of life, in addition to increased impairment of immune response and poorer survival in cancer patients. Previous systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the efficacy of interventions for cancer patients with depression have failed to distinguish between caseness for depression and depressive symptoms. The findings from this systematic review show that there is limited trial data on the efficacy of prescribed antidepressants in reducing the incidence of major depression and depressive symptoms in cancer patients. Contrary to previous reviews that failed to distinguish between depressive symptoms and depression, this review found very little data from clinical trials (without the possibility of confounding factors) to demonstrate that psychotherapeutic interventions are effective in reducing depression in cancer patients. A number of small-scale, single-centre trials indicated that psychotherapeutic interventions (especially cognitive behavioural therapy) can have effects on depressive symptoms in cancer patients. However, given the methodological limitations of studies to date, lack of evidence should not be interpreted as implying lack of efficacy. In conclusion, there is a need for adequately powered studies of pharmacological and psychotherapeutic studies, which are targeted at cancer patients with a diagnosis of depression and include monitoring of the use of other pharmacological/psychotherapeutic and complementary and alternative medicine interventions.

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