Women who survive breast cancer face a higher risk of depression that can linger and require antidepressants, according to a new study published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Researchers in Copenhagen looked at data on nearly two million Danish women between 1998 and 2011, all of whom were initially free of cancer. During the study period, they found 44,494 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

The risk of having to check into a hospital for severe depression was 70 percent higher for the breast cancer patients in the first year after diagnosis than their cancer-free peers. The breast cancer patients were also three times more likely to use antidepressants during the first year after diagnosis.

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The women diagnosed with breast cancer used antidepressants more than their peers up to eight years after their diagnosis. The researchers found that patients at highest risk included women aged 70 or older, those with node-positive breast cancer, and those with other serious health problems. The type of surgery or treatment had no effect on depression risk.

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“Cancer is feared, as it may metastasize, recur, and even kill you,” lead researcher Christoffer Johansen, M.D., of the Danish Cancer Society Research Center in Copenhagen, told HealthDay.

“Many patients become overwhelmed when facing the diagnosis and treatment trajectory, and for some this exposure is so hard to cope with that they become depressed. In general, some 20 percent of cancer patients experience a clinical depression during the first five years as cancer survivors.”


  1. Suppli, Nis P., et al. “Increased Risk for Depression After Breast Cancer: A Nationawide Population-Based Cohort Study of Associated Factors in Denmark, 1998-2011.” Journal of Clinical Oncology. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2013.54.0419. October 27, 2014.