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You are here : 3-RX.com > Home > Cancer - Depression - Psychiatry / Psychology -

Cancer patients’ depression tied to family woes

Cancer • • Depression • • Psychiatry / PsychologyDec 05, 08

Treating cancer patients’ depression may help their children stay mentally healthy too, new research in the Journal of Clinical Oncology suggests.

Dr. Florence Schmitt of the University Hospital of Turku in Finland and her colleagues conducted a study of 381 families in which a parent had cancer. They found that, overall, the families of cancer patients were doing well, but that an ill parent’s depression or physical impairment was linked to worse family function.

“Support systems need to be more family-oriented and child-centered in their approach to cancer psychosocial care,” Schmitt and her team write in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

There has been little research on how young children are affected by a family member’s cancer, Schmitt and her colleagues note. To date, the only characteristics of a “cancer family” known to impact the mental health of children are the number of children and whether there are one or two parents in the household.

To get a broader sense of factors that might determine the effect of a parent’s cancer on dependent children, Schmitt and her team conducted a survey of 381 families, including 639 parents and 489 children, from six European countries.

Thirty-five percent of the mothers with cancer were depressed, while 28 percent of healthy moms were. Among fathers with cancer, 28 percent were depressed, while 13 percent of healthy dads suffered from depression.

Family structure, number of children, socioeconomic class, or the amount of time since a patient had been diagnosed did not influence how well the family was doing.

However, the researchers found that families in which the parent with cancer was also depressed were significantly more likely to show impaired function.

Even though children didn’t report in interviews that they were affected by parents’ depression, Schmitt and her colleagues say, “because of the adverse effect of parental depression on children’s development and mental health, early screening for depression, active diagnostics, and appropriate treatment of cancer patient and partner depression may be important to protect their children from mental disorders.”

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Oncology, November 24, 2008.

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