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Chemotherapy Side Effects Cause Depression?

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Can chemotherapy side effects cause depression? According to the research linked below, they can. Just as important, a cancer diagnosis itself can cause depression. What’s a cancer survivor to do!?

I am a long-term cancer survivor. In my experience oncology does a lousy job of treating the short, long-term and late stage side effects that their treatment causes. My own chemotherapy did a number on both my brain health as well as my emotional health.

The purpose of this post is to educate cancer patient’s about what may happen to them once they undergo chemotherapy.

Certain chemotherapy regimens are known to be associated with a higher likelihood of adverse events. The chemo regimens listed below are by no means the only ones that can cause side effects and depression but there are several regimens that are really toxic. So be aware!

Some chemotherapy regimens that are often associated with more significant adverse events include:

  1. FOLFOX (5-fluorouracil, leucovorin, oxaliplatin):
    • Common side effects include neuropathy (nerve damage), diarrhea, and myelosuppression (decreased blood cell counts).
  2. BEACOPP (bleomycin, etoposide, doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, vincristine, procarbazine, prednisone):
    • Used for certain types of lymphomas, BEACOPP is associated with a higher risk of myelosuppression, infections, and long-term side effects.
  3. High-Dose Methotrexate:
    • Known for its use in various cancers, high-dose methotrexate can cause renal toxicity and affect the liver. Monitoring and supportive care are essential during treatment.
  4. Cisplatin-based Regimens:
    • Cisplatin, commonly used in various cancers, can cause kidney damage, nausea, and hearing loss.
  5. ABVD (doxorubicin, bleomycin, vinblastine, dacarbazine):
    • Used for Hodgkin lymphoma, ABVD can lead to side effects such as pulmonary toxicity, bleomycin lung injury, and myelosuppression.

Okay- if you are a cancer survivor who has undergone chemo and you’re feeling depressed, what do you do?

Understand that the side effects of cancer treatment that get lots of attention are the obvious ones like hair loss and nausea. While I am not minimizing the seriousness of losing your hair or puking your guts out, I am trying to focus on mind-body issues in this post.

My hair grew back after I lost it all and my nausea passed once I stopped chemotherapy. Emotional problems caused by chemotherapy’s side effects may be more long lasting.

If you are a newly diagnosed cancer patient- any type, any stage- consider the therapies listed below.

What evidence-based non-conventional therapies that fight depression?

Several non-toxic therapies have shown effectiveness in combating depression. It’s important to note that the effectiveness of these therapies can vary from person to person, and it’s always advisable to consult with a mental health professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan. Here are some non-toxic therapies commonly used for depression:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a widely researched and effective therapeutic approach for depression. It focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to depression.
  2. Mindfulness-Based Therapies: Mindfulness-based therapies, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), incorporate mindfulness meditation and awareness techniques to help individuals manage and reduce depressive symptoms.
  3. Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): IPT is a time-limited therapy that focuses on improving interpersonal relationships and communication skills. It aims to address social and relationship issues that may contribute to or result from depression.
  4. Behavioral Activation (BA): BA is a type of therapy that helps individuals identify and engage in activities that bring them a sense of accomplishment and pleasure. It aims to counteract the withdrawal and inactivity often associated with depression.
  5. Exercise and Physical Activity: Regular exercise has been shown to have positive effects on mood and can be an effective adjunct to other therapeutic approaches. It’s a natural way to boost serotonin levels and improve overall well-being.
  6. Light Therapy: For individuals with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), exposure to bright light can help regulate mood and alleviate depressive symptoms. Light therapy involves exposure to a bright light that mimics natural sunlight.
  7. Nutritional Approaches: Some studies suggest that certain dietary changes, such as increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids and adopting a well-balanced diet, may have a positive impact on mood.
  8. Art and Music Therapy: Creative therapies, including art and music therapy, provide individuals with a non-verbal outlet for expressing emotions and can be beneficial in managing depressive symptoms.
  9. Support Groups: Connecting with others who are experiencing similar challenges can provide a sense of community and support. Support groups, whether in person or online, can offer a platform for sharing experiences and coping strategies.
  10. Acupuncture: Some individuals find relief from depressive symptoms through acupuncture, an ancient Chinese practice that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body.

I’ve spent the years since my cancer diagnosis in early 1994 working on managing the side effects that resulted from my conventional oncological therapies. I can tell you without hesitation that chemotherapy side effects can cause depression.

The mission’s of PeopleBeatingCancer is to both highlight the problems of conventional oncology as well as the potential solutions (therapies) that can help heal oncology’s problems.

David Emerson

  • Cancer Survivor
  • Cancer Coach
  • Director PeopleBeatingCancer

Likelihood of Depression Is High in Patients With Cancer Who Experience Serious Adverse Events

“In patients with cancer, serious adverse events (SAEs) are an important method of measuring drug safety that can lead to discontinuation of treatment, hospitalization, or death. Not only are these SAEs physically painful, but they can also result in anxiety or depression…

Among the 112 patients enrolled in the study, 56 were men (50%) and 56 were women (50%). The most common types of cancer present were l

  • lung cancer (n = 23; 20.5%),
  • breast cancer (n = 25; 22.3%),
  • liver cancer (n = 19; 17.0%),
  • and gastric cancer (n = 18; 16.1%).

The remaining patients (n = 27; 24.1%) had esophageal cancer, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and hematologic cancer…

Notably, the likelihood of depression in patients with cancer who experienced Serious Adverse Events aka side effects, was greater than the likelihood of anxiety, according to the study authors. These results indicate a need to evaluate anxiety and depression in patients with cancer who are experiencing SAEs, as well as a need to consider providing mental health treatment for patients with cancer with SAEs during oncology clinical trials…”

Chemotherapy Side Effects Cause Depression?




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