Depression Causes Women With Advanced Breast Cancer to Curtail Healthy Habits

Recent research from a team of American scientists points toward increased risks for a depression-related downturn in activity and social interaction levels in women with advanced breast cancer. In a study published in January 2015 in the American Psychological Association journal Health Psychology, researchers from two American universities looked at the rate of depression in women with advanced cases of breast cancer, as well as the impact that depression symptoms may have on the odds that a woman with advanced breast cancer will remain recreationally active or maintain social ties with others.

Advanced Breast Cancer

As a rule, malignant cancer (the uncontrolled and damaging growth of cells inside the body) initially has a limited effect on a person’s health and gradually grows worse over time. Doctors commonly refer to progressively worsening degrees of cancer as cancer stages. In the case of breast cancer, there are five main stages of progression: Stage 0, Stage I, Stage II, Stage III and Stage IV. People with Stage 0 breast cancer actually have a pre-cancerous condition called ductal carcinoma in situ. People with Stage I breast cancer have relatively small tumors limited to the affected breast, while individuals with Stage II breast cancer have small, intermediate or large breast tissue tumors that may or may not be accompanied by a localized spread of cancerous cells to nearby lymph tissue. People with Stage III breast cancer have intermediate or large breast tissue tumors that may or may not have spread to nearby lymph tissue; in addition, they may or may not have a primary tumor that reaches the skin or the wall of the chest.

Stage IV breast cancer is the most severe and advanced form of the condition. Affected individuals have tumors of varying size in their breast tissue that may also have spread to nearby lymph tissue. The defining characteristic of this advanced cancer is the spread or metastasis of cancerous breast cells to other parts of the body, including the liver, bones, lungs, brain or distant lymph tissues.

Cancer and Mental Health

Doctors and researchers are well aware that the presence of cancer can significantly alter a man or woman’s sense of mental health and well-being. Broadly speaking, problems arise when the physical, social and/or or psychological/emotional impact of cancer sharply boosts an affected person’s day-to-day stress levels. For a number of reasons, humans can withstand only  so much prolonged, serious stress before they undergo damaging changes in their physical and mental function. Potential consequences of cancer-related stress include a prominently “down” mood and diagnosable symptoms of depression, as well as a prominently anxious mood and diagnosable symptoms of any one of a range of conditions classified as anxiety disorders.

Depression and Stage IV Breast Cancer

In the study published in Health Psychology, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and the University of California, Los Angeles used a project involving 103 women to gauge the level of depression commonly associated with advanced breast cancer, as well as the impact that depression has on the well-being of women with advanced breast cancer. All of the women enrolled in this project had a Stage IV breast cancer diagnosis. At the beginning of the study, each participant completed testing designed to assess her level of exposure to the mental and physical effects of depression. In addition, each participant completed testing designed to estimate her level of involvement in preferred recreational activities and social interactions. All of the women went through a second battery of testing three months later.

The researchers concluded that the level of involvement in preferred recreational activities at the beginning of the study did not have a consistent impact on depression levels over the next three months. However, they also concluded that depression levels at the beginning of the study did have a damaging impact on any given woman’s chances of being recreationally active three months later. This finding applied to the overall number of depression symptoms present in the individual, as well as to the severity of mental/emotional depression symptoms such as hopelessness, sadness and helplessness.

Based on their findings, the study’s authors believe that depression in women with Stage IV breast cancer may significantly reduce participation in some of the recreational activities that provide an important sense of continued well-being.

Posted on December 2nd, 2015
Posted in Depression

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