What is the efficacy of pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatments for major depression and other depressive disorders in cancer populations?
Depression occurs at an increased rate in medically ill populations, including patients with cancer. In the general population, depression has been shown to be responsive to structured forms of psychotherapy and to pharmacologic interventions. The Supportive Care Guidelines Group conducted a systematic review of the evidence for the effectiveness of those therapies in patients with depression and cancer and developed the present clinical practice guideline based on that review and on expert consensus.
Outcomes of interest included symptomatic response to treatment, discontinuation rate of treatment, adverse effects, and quality of life.
Clinical recommendations were developed by the Supportive Care Guidelines Group based on a systematic review of the published literature through June 2005, feedback obtained from Ontario health care providers on the draft recommendations, the Report Approval Panel (rap) of Cancer Care Ontario’s Program in Evidence-Based Care, and expert consensus.
The systematic review of the literature included eleven trials (seven of pharmacologic agents and four of non-pharmacologic interventions). Feedback received from 44 responding health care providers and the rap on the draft recommendations was addressed and documented in the guideline.
Among providers, 82% agreed with the draft recommendations as stated, 68% agreed that the report should be approved as a practice guideline, and 73% indicated that they would be likely to use the guideline in their own practice.
These recommendations apply to adult cancer patients with a diagnosis of major depression or other non-bipolar depressive disorders. They do not address the treatment of non-syndromal depressive symptoms, for which specific antidepressant treatment is not usually indicated. The guideline is intended both for oncology health professionals and for mental health professionals engaged in the treatment of cancer patients. Expert consensus was central to the development of the guideline recommendations because of limited evidence in cancer patients.
Treatment of pain and other reversible physical symptoms should be instituted before or with initiation of specific antidepressant treatment.
Antidepressant medications should be considered for the treatment of moderate-to-severe major depression in cancer patients. Current evidence does not support the relative superiority of one pharmacologic treatment over another, nor the superiority of pharmacologic treatment over psychosocial interventions. The choice of an antidepressant should be informed by individual medication and patient factors: the side effect profiles of the medication, tolerability of treatment (including the potential for interaction with other current medications), response to prior treatment, and patient preference.
Cancer patients diagnosed with major depression may benefit from a combined modality approach that includes both psychosocial and pharmacologic interventions. Psychosocial treatment approaches that may be of value include those that provide information and support and those that address any combination of emotional, cognitive, and behavioural factors.
Referral to a mental health specialist is appropriate when the diagnosis of depression is unclear, when the syndrome is severe, when patients do not respond to treatment, or when other complicating factors that may affect the choice of treatment are present.
Although care has been taken in the preparation of the information contained in this guideline, any person seeking to apply or to consult the guideline is expected to use independent medical judgment in the context of individual clinical circumstances or to seek out the supervision of a qualified clinician.