Feelings of depression are common when patients and family members are coping with cancer. It's normal to feel sadness and grief. Dreams, plans, and the future may seem uncertain. But if a person has been sad for a long time or is having trouble carrying out day-to-day activities, there is reason to be concerned.
Depression can be mild and temporary with periods of sadness, but can also be more severe and lasting. The more severe type is often called major depression or clinical depression.
Major or clinical depression makes it hard for a person to function and follow treatment plans. It happens in about 1 in 4 people with cancer, but it can be managed. People who have had depression before are more likely to have depression after their cancer diagnosis.
Family and friends who notice signs and symptoms of depression can encourage the person to get help. Sometimes symptoms of anxiety or distress can go along with depression. Here are some signs and symptoms that could mean professional help for depression is needed:
Some physical problems such as tiredness, poor appetite, and sleep changes can also be side effects of cancer treatment, and can linger after cancer treatment is over. Ask your cancer team about the possible causes of these symptoms and if depression might be a factor.
Managing depression in people with cancer might include counseling, medication, or a combination of both, and sometimes other specialized treatments. These treatments improve the depression, reduce the suffering, and help the person with cancer have a better quality of life.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
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Last Revised: February 1, 2020
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