Breast Cancer, Sleep Disturbance, and Depression to be Studied at UCLA

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UCLA researchers announced this week that they have received a $5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to fund a five-year study into the risk profiles of breast cancer survivors likely to suffer depression. The 300 volunteers needed for the study will be chosen by looking through the electronic patient records of Kaiser Permanente to find women who have been treated for breast cancer and don't have a history of depression.

The researchers believe the treatment of breast cancer can cause inflammation, leading to sleep disturbance and depression. Through the study they hope to discover whether sub-sets of breast cancer survivors are more at risk for depression. The volunteers will have their DNA examined for potential biomarkers and genetic anomalies. If a risk profile is identified, a follow-up study will be launched to evaluate prevention measures.

"Depression in breast cancer survivors is a huge problem," said Dr. Michael Irwin, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. "It often goes undiagnosed and is under treated. If we can identify those breast cancer survivors at elevated risk for sleep disturbance and, therefore, depression, we can diagnose and treat it earlier with better outcomes. Additionally, if we can identify those at greatest risk, efforts can be implemented early to prevent the occurrence of depression in the first place. Because depression is so prevalent and difficult to treat in breast cancer survivors, prevention of depression will dramatically improve quality of their life."

Irwin stated that the prevalence of depression in breast cancer survivors is three to five times greater than for the general population. His stated goal is to prevent the "cascade of events" that leads to depression, specifically inflammation and sleep disturbance.

"There are no published prospective data that have examined the independent contribution of sleep disturbance on depression occurrence in breast cancer survivors," said Irwin. "Increasing evidence implicates that sleep disturbance is activating inflammatory signaling, which serves as a biological mechanism that contributes to depression. We hope to define the genomic and biologic processes that results in this depression."

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