Depression in Cancer Patients May be Easy to Screen

Lacy LangleyScience

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MedicineNet from HealthDay reports that According to a new study, a simple two-question survey can accurately screen cancer patients for depression. The survey asks patients whether they have experienced little interest or pleasure in doing things, or felt down, depressed or hopeless in the last two weeks. The patients are given a points score based on their answers to the questions.

The way the scoring process works is, for each question, a patient can answer: not at all (worth zero points), several days (1 point), more than half the days (2 points), or nearly every day (3 points). Patients who score a total of at least 3 points on both questions are considered to be at risk for having depression.

The researchers that authored the study, found that the two-question screening test was just as accurate in screening for depression as a longer nine-question screening test. The study and it's findings are scheduled for presentation on Monday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.The test was assessed in a study that included 455 cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy at 37 centers in the United States. These patients were surveyed before or within two weeks of undergoing their first radiation treatment. Of the participants, 16 percent screened positive for depression.

"We found that a two-question survey can effectively screen for depression," Dr. William Small Jr., chair of the department of radiation oncology of Loyola University Medical Center, said in a Loyola news release. "We hope this will prompt more centers to screen for depression, and to refer patients for treatment when necessary."

Dr. Small and his colleagues also found that 78 percent of radiation therapy centers routinely screen patients for depression, with half screening at the initial visit. Sixty-eight percent of radiation therapy facilities offered mental health services. However, 67 percent of sites had only social workers available; 22 percent offered psychiatrists, and 17 percent offered psychologists. These results highlighted a need for a deeper look into how more can be done to help cancer patients with depression. However, this study was to be presented at a medical meeting, therefore, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

But Dr. Small is optimistic. "We think the results of this large, nationwide trial will have a major impact on how cancer patients are screened for depression," Small said.

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Lacy Langley
Lacy is a writer from Texas. She likes spending time in the home office, homeschooling her kids, playing the didgeridoo, caring for her chickens (Thelma and Louise), Rolos, Christmas, and Labyrinth.