February 29, 2016

couple-beach-cloudy-depressionTreating the depression that often accompanies cancer pain should be an integral part of your treatment plan.(JOSS/FOTOLIA)Pain can exacerbate depression, which in turn can affect the treatment outcome in cancer cases, says Eugenie Obbens, MD, acting chief of the Pain and Palliative Care Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

"Almost all patients who have a chronic and unmanageable pain will get depressed and often severely depressed," says Dr. Obbens. "They will get stressed, they will get irritable. They may also become difficult to live with because of that."

Shortly after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996, Susan Henle, 55, of Lakeland, Fla., began to struggle with pain resulting from chemotherapy, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. Henle became depressed and suffered what she describes as "a nervous breakdown." She eventually sought help from a psychiatrist. "I discussed the pain and how since having the cancer, my whole life is all screwed up," says Henle.

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Her psychiatrist helped her realize that she was keeping a lot bottled up and needed to lean more on her husband and daughter. "My husband would say 'If you don't tell me how you feel, there's no way to help you feel better,'" says Henle. "When you have a medical problem, you don't want to sound like you are whining, but I started opening up to my daughter and my husband, and they helped me through it."

Kathleen Foley, MD, a neurologist and former chief of the Pain and Palliative Care Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, recommends that patients talk with their doctors about taking antidepressants to treat both their depression and their pain.

"I think it's really important for patients to understand that there are ways to diagnose both and we need their help to define the pain component versus the depression," says Dr. Foley.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be experiencing depression, visit's Depression Journey.