Emotions of Cancer

Cancer and Depression

Depression is a mental health disorder that makes living with cancer extremely difficult. People living with cancer can experience depression at any stage of their journey, and severely impacts the day-to-day life of any individual. For a person living with cancer, depression can alter feelings towards treatment and important choices relating to your personal care, so it is essential to seek professional help.

Risk factors

If you have cancer and have any of the following risk factors, you may be more prone to depression:

  • A previous history of depression or anxiety
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Financial stress
  • Minimal support systems


Symptoms of depression can range from moderate to severe. Those who experience severe depression feel the effects of this on their day to day lives. Always talk to your oncology team about your mental health, particularly if you experience any of the following symptoms for longer that two weeks:


  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Irritable
  • Numb
  • Worthlessness


  • Episodes of frequent crying
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of interest in things that used to bring you joy
  • Pulling yourself away from family and friends


  • Negative thoughts, which may include hurting yourself
  • Memory loss or difficulties
  • Short attention span or difficulty focusing
  • Inability to make decisions


  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Changes in sex drive

Depression screening

During your cancer journey, you may be screened for depression. This should occur at regular intervals throughout your journey, as recommended by The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). While it can be difficult, it is essential to discuss your feelings and symptoms, and the effects these are having on your daily life. This will help your team of doctors create a plan of treatment best suited to your needs.


A mix of different treatments are generally recommended for individuals with moderate to severe depression. These can include:

  • Psychological help – with the help of mental health professionals, you are likely to develop the tools and skills needed to cope with your situation and reshape any negative thoughts or feelings.
  • Medication – there are a range of different antidepressants on the market that can help to reduce your symptoms of depression. Your doctor will prescribe your medication based on your individual needs, the other medications you are prescribed and your medical history.

While some people start to feel different after only two weeks, it takes approximately six to eight weeks before your antidepressant is fully implemented into your system. By utilizing a combination of medication and psychological treatment, there is a much higher chance that your depression will become manageable.

Moving past depression

Moving past mental illness can take some time, and you may never really be past it. As such, it is important to speak with your oncology team regularly regarding your mental health and let them know how the treatments are going, including any symptoms that you may be experiencing. If you feel that your symptoms are not improving, it may be necessary to change your treatment plan.