Depression May Be More Than a Reaction to Cancer: It May Be a Symptom of the Disease

CUREWinter 2020
Volume 19
Issue 1

In the winter issue of CURE ® the cover story deals with how depression affects patients with cancer on their journey, but how it might be a symptom of the disease as well.

The emotion that comes with cancer’s diagnosis and treatment can be, simply put, overwhelming.

Patients and their caregivers often experience deep sorrow, anger and fear, sometimes at a level that interferes enormously with everyday life. This kind of distress can arise at any point on the journey and can feel different to each person experiencing it.

For CURE ® Voices contributor Kathy LaTour, the intense feelings hit three years after her diagnosis of breast cancer, long after she completed treatment. “The tears that wouldn’t come before, now wouldn’t stop,” she wrote in an essay ( “It felt terrible, it felt great. I thought about dying all the time — I wanted to live more than anything. I felt totally crazy and out of control. What the hell was going on?”

After joining a therapist-led support group, LaTour found relief — and a name for the phase of the journey when suppressed emotions catch up with patients: “crash and burn.”

Mental health professionals would instead use the terms “emotional distress” or “depression” but would undoubtedly agree that reaching out for professional help is crucial for people who feel their emotions spinning out of control as they face cancer. In this issue of CURE ®, we offer a feature article on depression, explaining the phenomenon and what can be done to treat it.

Interestingly, the article discusses new evidence that depression can sometimes arise prior to a cancer diagnosis — a symptom of the growing disease rather than a reaction to it. Will this link eventually let patients and their doctors recognize cancer earlier or shed light on disease mechanisms that can lead to improved treatments? The article delves into these questions.

Our cover story introduces another topic that affects people across the spectrum of cancers: privacy in health care. The digital transmission of information — from electronic health records to Google searches to the use of direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies — leaves patients open to breaches of privacy.

Our article explains what patients should know about how their personal data can be shared, bought and sold and the potential consequences.

Elsewhere in these pages, we examine the growing use of targeted drugs known as poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitors to treat ovarian cancer and discuss the reasons patients with any kind of cancer should get vaccinated against the flu.

Finally, we bring you a primer on how to choose a clinical trial and an expert column about resolving issues with sexual intimacy after cancer. We hope this array of topics will inform and support you, helping you better navigate the decisions and emotions involved in your cancer journey. As always, thank you for reading.

Read the full issue here.