The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: June 27, 2003
Many people believe that all people with cancer are depressed. This is not true. It is true that some people may have more trouble adjusting to the diagnosis of cancer than others. It is important to understand that feelings of sadness and worry are natural reactions to the experience of cancer.
Since sadness and worry are natural reactions, it is important to distinguish between "normal" levels of sadness and severe or clinical depression that requires treatment.
Some reactions you may experience early in your diagnosis include:
Some symptoms you may experience with depression include:
The diagnosis of depression is sometimes difficult to make in people with cancer because it is difficult to separate the symptoms of depression from the side effects of cancer. Discussing your symptoms with your nurse, doctor, clergy or counselor is important.
Your doctor and nurse may refer you to a counselor to talk with you and determine your level of depression.
Medications Prescribed by Physicians (Antidepressants) There are many antidepressants available and your physician will choose one that is right for you. Most antidepressants take 3 to 6 weeks to begin working. Your doctor will consider the side effects when deciding which antidepressant to use.
A word of caution: St. John's Wort (hypericum perforatum) has been used as an over-the-counter herbal antidepressant. As with any medication, you should be evaluated by your doctor before treating yourself with St. John's Wort.
Many people find counseling along with medication helpful in treating their depression. Counseling will help you find ways to:
Cancer support groups may also help. Support groups have been shown to improve mood, help develop coping skills and improve quality of life.
Support groups can be found through the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, The Wellness Community, the American Cancer Society, and other community resources. Ask your nurse or physician for information about support groups in your area.
If you have any questions about depression or need additional information, ask your doctor or nurse. Please let your doctor or nurse know if you would like information on other topics.