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cancerWhy do some women weather a diagnosis of breast cancer and treatment with a minimum amount of emotional stress and bypass the depression most often experienced by many new survivors?

Depression certainly seems to be an understandable response to facing a life-threatening illness, changes in body image, debilitating treatment, expensive treatments not totally covered by insurance and changes in one’s personal and professional life.

Ann Bettencourt, professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, recently studied women who are most likely to experience distress following a diagnosis of breast and when depressive symptoms tend to occur throughout the course of their treatment.

Bettencourt found evidence that certain factors, including marital status, having children in the home, income level and age, affect the likelihood of depression in breast cancer survivors.

“Many women receive strong support following their initial diagnoses of and treatment for cancer, but then the social support can wane,” Bettencourt said. “Our findings suggest that both single women and mothers with children in the home may need additional support across the entire year following breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.”

The research also links depression levels with income and age. Women with different incomes tend to have similar levels of elevated depression during treatment, but those symptoms decrease among women with higher incomes in the year following treatment. Younger breast cancer survivors experience more depression during treatment than older patients, but report levels similar to those of older women after treatment is complete.

Bettencourt says identifying risk factors for depression among breast cancer patients is an important part of a woman’s prognosis. In a separate study, she links depression with both intentions to adhere to treatment plans and lack of adherence to medication regimens. The research shows that more depressed survivors have less favorable attitudes toward and perceptions of treatment regimens and thus are less likely to adhere to them.

“Depression can interfere with patients’ willingness to adhere to medication regimens,” Bettencourt said. “Deviating from the prescribed course of treatment may complicate patient outcomes and threaten prognosis.”

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia


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