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Anxiety and depression symptoms more common after recovery from breast cancer

30 March 2018

​Women who recover from breast cancer are more likely to suffer serious symptoms of depression and anxiety in the 10 years after diagnosis than women who have not had breast cancer. This was revealed in research carried out by PhD student and GP trainee Saskia Accord-Maass from the UMCG, who studied 350 women who had been treated for breast cancer at least 5 years ago. She presented the results of her study this week at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona.

Psychological problems are common in breast cancer patients in the first few years after diagnosis. However, very few studies focus on the long-term effects. The aim of Saskia Accord-Maass’ study was to ascertain the long-term psychological problems facing patients who recover from breast cancer. She examined 350 women who had been successfully treated for breast cancer an average of ten years previously. Accord-Maass wanted to know whether they were more prone to mild or severe symptoms of anxiety or depression than a group of women of the same age, who visited the same GP, but who had not had cancer. The women were assessed on the widely used Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), whereby the women themselves indicate whether they are experiencing psychological problems.

Her research showed that former breast cancer patients have a much higher risk of suffering depression and severe depression. She also noted a higher prevalence of serious symptoms of anxiety. According to Accord-Maass, these results are important to GPs and other care professionals, who could be more aware of the mental wellbeing of this growing group of breast cancer survivors.  Previous research has shown that the standard treatment for anxiety and depression have a positive effect on women with a history of breast cancer.

The importance of more research into breast cancer was stressed repeatedly at the conference. This study was partly funded by Pink Ribbon and Stichting De Friesland.