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REVIEW
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 33  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 13-19

Antidepressant therapy in patients with cancer: A clinical review


1 Department of Psychiatry, Wan Fang Medical Center, Taipei, Taiwan
2 Department of Psychiatry, Wan Fang Medical Center; Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, Taipei Medical University, Taipei, Taiwan

Correspondence Address:
Winston W Shen
No.111, Section 3, Shing Long Road, Taipei 116
Taiwan
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/TPSY.TPSY_3_19

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Background: The prevalence of major depressive disorder (MDD) by DSM criteria among cancer patients is about 14%–15% in oncological, hematological, and palliative services and the number is risen up to 20%–25% when other depressive disorders are also included. Like MDD patients in general, patients with cancer are thought to be underdiagnosed and undertreated. Untreated depression in cancer patients may lead to having distressed symptoms and signs, decreased quality of life, higher suicide risk, greater psychological burden on the family, longer hospital stays, poorer anticancer treatment compliance, as well as even increased risk for mortality. Methods: In this review, the authors reviewed published articles on the use of antidepressant use for patients with cancer, to familiarize the readers with the use of antidepressants. Results: Antidepressants have been found to be more effective than placebo in relieving depressive symptoms in patients with cancer, and the efficacy is positively associated with length of treatment. Although the rate of antidepressant prescription is increasing, still about 75% of cancer patients with depression have not yet received antidepressant treatment. Besides the use in treating mood and anxiety symptoms, antidepressants have also been found to have versatile rôles as palliative treatment for cancer-related symptoms – pain, hot flushes, nausea, anorexia/cachexia, and fatigue. Furthermore, antidepressants have been studied for their anticancer potentials. They can inhibit tumor growth through either indirectly regulating immunity by enhancing cytotoxic activity and modulating cytokine production, or directly initiating cancer cell death and arresting cancer cell proliferation. We also found important drug-drug interaction between antidepressants and tamoxifen. Conclusion: Besides treating depressive and anxiety disorders, antidepressants are effective in treating cancer-related symptoms (pain, hot flushes, nausea, anorexia/cachexia, and fatigue). Cancer patients are eager to receive more effective treatment against their cancer as well as comorbid depression, and physicians should be more aggressive in providing every beneficial regimen – including an antidepressant.


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