Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


Depression and cancer

It’s all over the news today that there’s insufficient support for people with cancer who suffer from depression.

A total of 3 articles have been released today by The Lancet, The Lancet Oncology and The Lancet Psychiatry. The articles don’t make easy reading for anyone wishing to ensure adequate support for those affected by cancer. They describe a real issue of  major depression going untreated in people with cancer.


The authors screened over 20,000 patients and estimated the prevalence of major depression amongst oncology outpatients. Worryingly the majority of people identified with depression were not receiving any form of treatment associated with that depression. In 2 different trials the authors compare those with depression and no treatment to those who do receive treatment. The results indicate much better outcomes where treatment is provided. These include reduced depression and anxiety but also lower levels of pain and fatigue, and better functioning and quality of life.

If you’ve read our publication Every Step of the Way you’ll remember stories such as those of Brian whose Peer Advocate Bob described how Brian: ” found his condition very hard to accept and suffered bouts of depression and often became upset when speaking about his situation.” 

In another story Ron tells us: “I felt a great sense of confusion, apprehension and got very depressed very quickly. I couldn’t
bring myself to look at the leaflets that I was given because the whole idea of having cancer was terrifying and I had this idea that if I didn’t look at them, it may go away.

The advocacy support provided to both Brian and Ron made a real difference to them. With awareness of depression in cancer patients now raised by the Lancet articles we hope additional support mechanisms will become available to a wider range of cancer patients.

The articles in the Lancet, The Lancet Oncology and The Lancet Psychiatry can be accessed here


Marie McWilliams, National Development Officer, OPAAL