The link between cancer and mental health problems like depression and PTSD is well known to doctors and healthcare workers. The rates in those undergoing cancer treatment are estimated to be as high as 25%, and despite ongoing calls for better treatment, research has shown that the vast majority of cases are left untreated. The extent of the problem is highlighted further when looking at the suicide rates of cancer patients. In the UK, suicide rates are around 10 per 100,000 people. In cancer patients, this jumps to 30 per 100,000, and in those with urological cancers it’s 52 per 100,000 – over five times higher than the general population.

When looking at these figures, it’s clear that there’s a desperate need for better identification and treatment for depression in those undergoing cancer treatment, especially those with urological cancers, which can lead to side effects like incontinence, fertility problems, personality changes and loss of libido. It’s vital that cancer patients are proactively given the right support to combat this growing problem. “There are particular issues which are specific to this group,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Mehran Afshar of St George’s Hospital in London.

He added: “For example, men with prostate cancer [which had the highest suicide rate] undergo treatment which can affect their bladder function, their bowel function, erectile function and libido, can result in symptoms similar to the female menopause, and entirely alter the personality, leading to relationship problems, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. We know that people who attempt suicide are at higher risk of subsequently completing a suicide, and we have shown this ‘intent’ to be far higher in our cancer population, thus confirming a real need to address psychological issues early on in the management of these patients”.

Heather Blake, director of support at Prostate Cancer UK said: “It is vitally important that every man diagnosed with prostate cancer receives the appropriate psychological support needed to help him through his journey with the disease – from diagnosis, through treatment and beyond. Many men endure life changing side effects as a result of prostate cancer treatment, which can strike at the heart of what it means to be a man, and many struggle to come to terms with the aftermath.”

The results of this study are on the agenda at the upcoming European Association of Urology Congress in Copenhagen. “This important work shows just how distressing cancer can be,” said Professor Hein van Poppel, a urological cancer specialist and the EAU’s adjunct secretary. “But it looks like urological cancers can affect patients’ sense of self in a way that many cancers don’t.”

 

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