Depression: Breast Cancer’s Forgotten Side Effect

By Winderlyon Hebert, Associate Therapy Director

A diagnosis of breast cancer can bring a wave of different emotions for a woman. Feelings of sadness, fear, anger and grief are considered normal.  The shock of receiving such life changing news qualifies as a major stressor, so it’s no surprise that depression and anxiety are common among patients.

After a diagnosis–pain, fatigue and insomnia can result from cancer treatment.  Changes in body image following a mastectomy can impact self-esteem and confidence. Family roles may be altered or jobs may be lost as a result of the disease.

Patients might also fear death, suffering, or all the other unknown things that may lie ahead. Breast cancer patients feel grief at these changes or losses.  In addition, women who have had depression before are at greater risk of developing it again following their diagnosis.

Ending treatment can also deepen depression or add to anxiety. Any happiness that comes from ending treatment can be colored by uncertainty over whether it is successful or not. Even years after treatment ends, it’s not unusual for the distress to remain.

Many of the treatments breast cancer patients undergo can also trigger symptoms of depression. For example, tamoxifen can affect a patient’s hormone levels causing depression. Ironically, some antidepressants can interfere with tamoxifen’s ability to treat the disease.

The cancer journey can be a lonely one for breast cancer patients. Helping them deal with their depression is important to survivorship. Patients and their families should talk to their oncology care teams or a mental health professional about what is the best course of action for dealing with their depression and anxiety.

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels