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Beating depression for cancer patients

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A new treatment programme for cancer patients with clinical depression can significantly boost their quality of life according to new research published in the Lancet today.

Cancer Research UK scientists devised the treatment programme which offers patients one-to-one sessions with specially trained cancer nurses to help them manage their depression more effectively.

They found that, after three months of receiving the new treatment, almost 20 per cent fewer patients were depressed compared with patients who received standard NHS treatment. The difference was still evident after one year.

The study recruited 200 cancer patients with clinical depression and compared the new strategy – "Depression Care for People with Cancer" – with the standard NHS treatment.

Half were given standard care for depression either from their GP or hospital specialist. The other half received the special programme which entailed sessions on: understanding depression and the effects of antidepressants; problem-solving therapy to help patients overcome feelings of helplessness; liaison with oncologist and GP to collaborate in treatment of depression; monthly monitoring of progress by telephone and providing optional "booster" sessions.

After three months, the patients who were treated in this way found there was an improvement in anxiety and fatigue as well as depression.

Professor Michael Sharpe, from the Psychological Medicine Research group at the University of Edinburgh which carried out the study, said: "Ten per cent of cancer patients experience clinical depression and, unfortunately, it is not always adequately treated. This new treatment could substantially improve the way we manage depression in people with cancer and also in people with other serious medical conditions.

"This is the first time that this type of depression treatment has been evaluated in cancer patients and the results are very encouraging."

Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, has recently awarded Professor Sharpe’s research team more than £4 million to continue their work in finding better ways to treat depression and other symptoms in cancer patients.

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said: "As well as finding ways to prevent and treat cancer, the charity is committed to improving the quality of life for people who are living with the disease."

(Source: Lancet: Cancer Research UK: July 2008)

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Posted On: 24 July, 2008
Modified On: 16 January, 2014

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