Signs of Depression in Cancer Patients


Contrary to popular belief, not every cancer patient will experience depression. Though most everyone diagnosed with cancer is initially sad, scared, and/or anxious, only about 20% of patients will become clinically depressed.

Signs and Symptoms of Clinical Depression in Cancer Patients

Depression is much more than just feeling sad.

  • Feelings of hopelessness or like you’re not worth treating. After the initial shock, many patients are eager to begin treatment and win the battle against cancer. If you begin to feel as if your prognosis is hopeless (especially if your healthcare provider is saying your chances of beating cancer are good), you may be experiencing signs of depression.
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed. An aggressive treatment plan can make it difficult to do things you once enjoyed, particularly physical activities. However, patients can still enjoy many of the same hobbies, like watching movies, playing board games, and going for walks. If a patient has no interest in doing things they’re capable of, they may be depressed.
  • Insomnia (not sleeping) or hypersomnia (sleeping for long periods of time). If you notice you’re sleeping more or less often than usual, ask your doctor if this is a side effect of your medication. If your sleep patterns recently changed, but your treatment plan has not, speak to your doctor right away about your mental health.
  • An unwillingness to help yourself get or stay well. Not wanting to comply with your doctor’s orders (going to treatment, attending doctor's visits, taking medications at home, eating well, etc.) is another common sign of depression in cancer patients.

Why Depression Often Goes Undiagnosed in Cancer Patients

Though far less than half of all cancer patients are officially diagnosed with depression, it’s believed that depression affects many more than that. Because cancer has such an impact on a person’s physical and emotional health, as well as their daily life, most symptoms of depression are written off as a typical response to the diagnosis, the cancer itself, or treatment.

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