Depression Detection Tool to Transform Treatment of Cancer

Depression affects 25% of patients with advanced cancer – the stage at which the disease has begun to spread from its original tumour. At this stage, depression is difficult to diagnose as symptoms can be confused with a patient displaying ‘appropriate sadness’ – feelings which commonly result from suffering a terminal illness.

A team from the University’s Division of Primary Care has created a method of testing for depression so clinicians can introduce additional treatment to enable patients to cope with the cancer more effectively. The tool could also be applied to sufferers of other serious illnesses such as Parkinson’s Disease and chronic heart disease.

Based on a screening system originally developed for sufferers of post-natal depression, the new tool – known as the ‘Brief Edinburgh Depression Scale’ (BEDS) – includes a six-step scale that assesses a cancer patient’s mental condition. The test includes questions on worthlessness, guilt and suicidal thoughts.

Research lead, Professor Mari Lloyd-Williams commented: “The effects of depression can be as difficult to cope with as the physical symptoms of a terminal illness such as cancer. Patients often feel useless, that they are to blame, and even experience suicidal thoughts during cancer – these are all signs of depression but rarely elicited.

“It is vital that depression during cancer is identified so clinicians can implement appropriate treatment and intervention in the form of drugs or therapy, so the patient receives the optimum care possible.”

The BEDS has been trialled on 246 patients with advanced cancer. A quarter of those patients were shown to have depression that had previously not been diagnosed.

Professor Lloyd-Williams added: “Depression has a huge impact on in patients with advanced cancer – influencing the severity of pain and other symptoms, and greatly reducing quality of life. We hope our test will be introduced as a routine part of cancer care so patients’ quality of life can be improved in dealing with such a distressing disease.”

The research has been published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

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