Taiwanese Journal of Psychiatry

: 2019  |  Volume : 33  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 227--228

The potential use of using the psychological side effects of antidepressants in treating cancer patients

Fong-Lin Jang, Pei-Hsin Kao 
 Department of Psychiatry, Chi Mei Medical Center, Tainan City, Taiwan

Correspondence Address:
Fong-Lin Jang
No. 442, Section 2, Shu-Lin Street, Tainan 702

How to cite this article:
Jang FL, Kao PH. The potential use of using the psychological side effects of antidepressants in treating cancer patients.Taiwan J Psychiatry 2019;33:227-228

How to cite this URL:
Jang FL, Kao PH. The potential use of using the psychological side effects of antidepressants in treating cancer patients. Taiwan J Psychiatry [serial online] 2019 [cited 2022 Jan 27 ];33:227-228
Available from: http://www.e-tjp.org/text.asp?2019/33/4/227/273858

Full Text

We appreciate the comprehensive and exemplary review about antidepressant therapy in cancer patients by Chang and Shen [1]. In a latest meta-analysis about the clinical practice of antidepressants in oncology [2], the antidepressant prescription rate is remarkably less in studies from Asia except one study on breast cancer in Taiwan. The most frequently prescribed antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Although the oncologists recognize the efficacy of antidepressants in depression or anxiety symptoms and in cancer-related symptoms, they still concern about their side effects and drug interactions [3].

About the side effects of antidepressants, we want to indicate here the psychological side effect (PSE) of anhedonia/indifference/apathy which may be due to the serotoninergic effect. Most of the reports on the PSE in literature are from SSRI or SNRI. To our knowledge, the first report about the PSE on SSRI was published in 1990 [4].

The authors found that the PSE appears within the first week and resembled frontal lobe syndrome. This case report also emphasized that the induction of a mild form of PSE is a therapeutically important ingredient of SSRI. In the next decade, only a few sporadic reports were focused on the PSE on SSRI, and the medical society was to neglect this agenda. It was not until 2004 that there was a large-scale report of semi-structured telephone interview [5]. It was a study from 161 patients who had major depressive disorder and completed a course of SSRI treatment. A considerable proportion of patients (44/161, 27%) had been found to suffer from PSE, to experience more unwanted PSE in non-responders, and to be reluctant to receive SSRI again. Recently, the University of Oxford developed a questionnaire to survey the emotional side effects of antidepressants. In their Internet-based study [6], nearly half of depressive patients (401/854, 47%) on antidepressants report PSE. But the authors could not rule out that the emotional blunting might be a residual symptom of depression rather than simply a side effect of treatment.

 A Questionnaire of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor/serotonin–norepinephrine Reuptake Inbibitor-Induced Psychological Side Effect

We also drafted a simple copy of self-rating questionnaire for PSEs of SSRI/SNRI with five items to explore the PSE of SSRI/SNRI [Table 1] and hoped to help clinicians adjust the dosage of SSRI/SNRI. Those five items included blunting of general emotion, bluntings of positive and negative emotions, indifference, and amotivation. The institutional review board at Chi Mei Medical Center approved the study project (protocol number = 10611-007, approval date = January 12, 2018), with the need to get informed consent forms the study patients.{Table 1}

The test-retest reliability of PSE questionnaire was good (r = 0.91). Internal consistency of the questionnaire was acceptable (Cronbach's alpha = 0.79). We used this tool with Depression and Somatic Symptoms Scale (DSSS) [7] to survey 37 depressive patients who had been SSRI drug free for at least three months before they entered the study. One patient dropped out. Another patient did not take prescribed SSRI. All of the remaining 35 patients that took 5–10 mg/day of escitalopram had scores of this questionnaire in the first week. The maximal score of the questionnaire was 20. We found that the patients with total scores of 1 to 3 in the first week showed good improvement in DSSS scores the next week, and the average reduction of total score was 19 points.


Cancer is certainly a big impact to the victims. The stress reactions of shock, denial, bargain, and following depression or anxiety are common. An Australian study showed that starting antidepressants is most commonly around the diagnosis time of cancer [8]. The duration of antidepressant treatment is shorter than that recommended for depression, suggesting that the treatment might be for short-term adjustment reactions. For the stress reaction, mild PSE may be useful instead of helping patients get appropriate indifference to cope with their cancer, if antidepressants are indicated. We also suggest to use the self-rating scale like DSSS to screen and follow-up depressive patients. DSSS has good validity and reliability and has good correlation with Hamilton Depression Rating Scale [7]. Importantly, a simple and useful rating scale can help communicate with other professionals.

 Financial Support and Sponsorship


 Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest in writing this letter.


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