New research conducted by King’s College, London reveals women living with breast cancer and depression face an increased risk of death.

Results from a 10 year study involving more than 77,000 British women with breast cancer found that after factoring many variables, such as the stage of the cancer, age of cancer diagnosis, co-morbidities and socio-economic status, women living with breast cancer who were also diagnosed with clinical depression, were at much higher risk of cancer death.

Study data revealed five years’ post- breast cancer diagnosis; there was a clinically significant difference in survival rates for women with a history of depression, compared to those who had no history of mental illness.

In participants with no history of depression, survival rates five years’ post- breast cancer diagnosis were around 75 per cent, while only 55 per cent of participants living with depression and breast cancer were still alive.

Researchers suggest the findings, which have been published in the Journal of Psycho-Oncology, may be due to depressed women experiencing higher levels of stress, which results in the adoption of unhealthy lifestyle behaviours and reduced compliance with treatment regimens.

Based on these findings, lead researcher, Dr Elizabeth Davies, cites in a recent AAP interview, the need for clinicians to ask their female patients diagnosed with breast cancer about how they are feeling.

“These findings emphasise the need to ask patients with cancer about their mood and for women to know it’s okay to ask for help,” said Dr Davies.

Dr Davies maintains these women, particularly those diagnosed with depression, should be offered more support, and these simple interventions may help to reduce the negative impact of depression on the mortality rates of people living with breast cancer.