Among the many challenges facing patients with head and neck cancer, depression can be an added stressor that, if unrecognized and untreated, contributes to decreased quality of life and early mortality.
Explore this issue:August 2018
This information is not new. Evidence has long shown that depression rates in cancer patients are among the highest in those with head and neck cancers, occurring in approximately 15% to 50% of these patients. Some of these patients will present with or have a prior history of depression, while others will develop depression in the year following diagnosis. For patients who do develop depression, symptoms typically peak two to three months after diagnosis (Cancer Epidemiol. 2016;43:42-48; Clin Adv Hematol Oncol. 2009;7:397-403).
Recognizing the increased risk for and prevalence of depression in head and neck patients is the first critical step in addressing the problem. Diagnosis can be tricky, however, because many of the symptoms of depression are similar to side effects of cancer treatment. Additionally, treatment may be unfamiliar territory for clinicians who don’t typically address behavioral health issues.