Depression In Cancer Patients Reduces Effectiveness Of Chemotherapy

June 02, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team

A brain-boosting protein plays an important role in how well people respond to chemotherapy, researchers report, suggesting that depression may have an impact on a patient’s response to chemotherapy.

Researchers at the ESMO Asia 2016 Congress in Singapore, found that cancer patients suffering depression have decreased amounts of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in their blood. Low levels make people less responsive to cancer drugs and less tolerant of their side effects.

Lead author Yufeng Wu, head of oncology, department of internal medicine, Affiliated Cancer Hospital of Zhengzhou University, Henan Cancer Hospital, Zhengzhou, China, said: “It’s crucial doctors pay more attention to the mood and emotional state of patients. “Depression can reduce the effects of chemotherapy and BDNF plays an important role in this process.”

Depression influenced outcomes for advanced lung cancer

Cancer patients frequently experience low mood, especially the terminally ill. Low levels of BDNF have already been associated with mental illness and are necessary for normal brain function. The purpose of this study was to determine how depression affected outcomes for patients with advanced lung cancer.

186 newly diagnosed patients getting chemotherapy were recruited by the researchers. They were asked to rate their level of depression the day before treatment started in order to gauge their mental state.

Details about the quality of life, overall survival, and other information were also gathered. Researchers were able to match this data to the patient’s mood levels as a result.

The findings indicated that patients with cancer that had progressed to other organs were the most depressed, and this significantly reduced their ability to tolerate chemotherapy. Vomiting, a decline in white blood cells, and extended hospital admissions were all connected to it. The impact of severe depression was even greater. It decreased the amount of time people may have had the illness without it getting worse.

Protein in the blood plays an important role in fighting cancer

Researchers discovered that BDNF significantly increased the number of cancer cells destroyed by chemotherapy. It was less effective for patients with severe depression to combat cancer because they had lower blood levels of the protein. This decreased their likelihood of surviving the illness.

“Our aim now is to prescribe drugs such as fluoxetine to depressed patients and study their sensitivity to chemotherapy,” added Wu. Commenting on the results of the research, Ravindran Kanesvaran, consultant medical oncologist and assistant professor, Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore, said: “The link between depression and poor outcomes among these patients is significant and can be associated with the downregulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor.

“This finding can perhaps lead to new ways to treat depression in these patients which in turn may prolong their lives. Further research is needed to establish the effects of different anti-depressant drugs on BDNF levels.”

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Materials provided by European Society for Medical Oncology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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European Society for Medical Oncology. “Depressed patients are less responsive to chemotherapy.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 December 2016. <>.

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Toll-Free Mental Health Rehabilitation Helpline Kiran (1800-599-0019)

Name of the Organisation: Indian Cancer Society

The ICS is one of the first voluntary, non-profit, National Organization for Awareness, Detection, Cure and Survivorship of those affected with this disease.


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Name of the Organisation: Vandrevala Foundation

Vandrevala Foundation is a non-profit that partners with organizations to help communities thrive by providing education and healthcare. Vandrevala Foundation launched a mental health helpline in India in 2009 to offer free psychological counselling and crisis mediation to anyone who is experiencing distress due to depression, trauma, mood disorders, chronic illness, and relationship conflict.


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