Cancer patients using complementary and alternative medicine are more depressed

Many cancer patients use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with the aim of increasing their quality of life. The results of a new study among women treated for breast cancer cannot confirm this. The results indicate that women who used CAM – in particular various herbal medicines and vitamin supplements – experienced more depressive symptoms over time.

2013.10.11 | Tine Bagger Christiansen

Cancer patients using complementary and alternative medicine are more depressed. Foto: Colourbox

In a nationwide study of 3233 Danish women treated for breast cancer, researchers from the Department of Oncology, Unit for Psychooncology and Health Psychology, Aarhus University Hospital and the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Science, investigated the effects of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) on patients' quality of life. The women who reported to have used CAM were more depressed than the women who did not use CAM, both 3 and 15 months after surgery. Furthermore - contrary to expectations - women using certain types of CAM, such as herbal medicines and dietary supplements, appeared to experience increased depressive symptoms over time.

Both international and Danish studies have shown that many cancer patients use various types of CAM. Approximately 50% of Danish women with breast cancer report using CAM during or after conventional cancer treatment. Previous research indicates that depressed cancer patients are more likely to use CAM, hoping this can improve their quality of life.

When the researchers started the study they therefore expected that women using CAM would experience an improved quality of life over time.

”The results showed, surprisingly, that use of CAM was associated with more depressive symptoms immediately after the surgery and 1 year later,” explains psychologist and PhD Christina Gundgaard Pedersen, who is one of the researchers behind the study.

Regardless of the type of CAM, there was no indication that use of CAM was associated with improving the patients' quality of life over time. The results also showed that women using herbal medicines and dietary supplements experienced more depressive symptoms over time, even when adjusting for other factors such as age, socio-economic status, disease severity, type of cancer treatment, and the level of depressive symptoms at baseline.

Another member of the research team, professor Robert Zachariae notes:

”We have no immediate explanation for our results, but one possibility is that women who are particularly vulnerable to developing depression over time are more inclined to use CAM.”

According to the researchers, another possible explanation could be that some types of CAM have adverse effects on the body and brain, but the possible mechanisms need to be further investigated.

The results are published in the Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

 

Contact:

Christina Gundgaard Pedersen,

MSc in Psychology, PhD

Unit for Psychooncology and Health Psychology

Dept. of Oncology, Aarhus University Hospital

and Dept of Psychology and Behavioral Science, Aarhus University

Bartholins Alle 9; Bld. 1340; DK-8000 Aarhus C

Tel. +45 87165879 / e-mail: Christina@psy.au.dk

 

Bobby Zachariae

Professor, DMSci, MSc.

Unit for Psychooncology and Health Psychology

Dept. of Oncology, Aarhus University Hospital

and Dept of Psychology and Behavioral Science, Aarhus University

Bartholins Alle 9; Bld. 1340; DK-8000 Aarhus C

Tel. +45 871 65878 / +45 2423 5356/ e-mail: bzach@aarhus.rm.dk

 

Reference:

 

Pedersen CG, Christensen S, Jensen AB, Zachariae R. Use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and changes in depressive symptoms from 3 to 15 months after primary surgery for early breast cancer. Results from a nationwide Danish cohort study. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. [Epub ahead of print]:
link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10549-013-2680-1 

 

 

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