Don’t Let Depression Sabotage Your Breast Cancer Treatment
Between 9 and 25 percent of women with breast cancer will also be diagnosed with depression. Even according to the most conservative estimates, women with breast cancer are twice as likely as the general population to be diagnosed with depression. And that’s a big deal, because depression is more than just an emotional phenomenon — it causes physiological symptoms that can make breast cancer harder to treat, and significantly raise your rate of recurrence.
It’s not unusual to experience feelings of depression following a breast cancer diagnosis. Being diagnosed with breast cancer fundamentally changes your life, and can force you to re-evaluate your priorities. If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer and experience feelings of depression, seeking treatment for your depression can be a matter of survival.
The Link Between Depression and Breast Cancer
The reason so many women with breast cancer are diagnosed with depression is because the two disorders are linked. While doctors don’t yet fully understand how one condition contributes to the other, they do know that cancer cells produce chemicals that can cause depression symptoms. Once depression sets in, it can promote the spread or recurrence of cancer. A depressed woman who does not have breast cancer is more likely than her non-depressed counterpart to be diagnosed with the disease. A woman with breast cancer who develops depression can experience a 25 to 35 percent increase in recurrence rates.
That’s because depression is, at its core, an inflammatory disease. It interferes with the immune system to cause breast cancer as well as other diseases. In a study performed at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, researchers discovered that women who have been successfully treated for breast cancer retain breast cancer cells within their bone marrow. A later illness, like depression, diabetes, or obesity, can cause those cells to activate.
Fighting Depression Caused by Breast Cancer
If you’re experience depression during breast cancer treatment, you need psychotherapy in order to combat it. Many women say they benefit the most from talk therapy, which can help them figure out how to best cope with their disease and care for themselves emotionally. Antidepressants are another option, and most doctors recommend regular exercise to help breast cancer patients fight depressed mood.
Breast cancer treatment can affect your energy levels. When you get radiation treatment for breast cancer, or have surgery, it can leave your arms and chest feeling sore and stiff. Doctors recommend gentle exercise, like walking, to boost energy levels, combat fatigue, and stave off depression. Gentle activities that stretch and strengthen the arms, like yoga or tai chi, can also help boost mood, improve muscle tone, and support recovery.
You should try to get at least two hours of moderate exercise per week — two hours of brisk walking, for example, has been linked with a 40 percent reduction in risk of death among breast cancer patients and survivors. Don’t overdo it; excessive exercise during or immediately after cancer surgery or other treatment could impair your recovery. Avoid any activities that raise your body temperature, like hot yoga, since these could increase your risk of lymphedema.
Many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer also struggle with depression; if you’re one of them, get help. Not getting depression help could seriously impact the success of your breast cancer therapy, but getting depression treatment could promote your recovery and protect you from recurrence.