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Depression Largely Untreated in Low-Income Cancer Patients

Just one-fourth of women in new study got drugs or counseling

FRIDAY, May 6, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Close to a quarter of minority women with cancer suffer depression, but only about one in 10 of them is diagnosed or treated for it, researchers report.

"Most striking, we saw that only 12 percent of poor minority women were receiving antidepressant medications and only 5 percent met with a counselor or support group. This is in stark contrast to a recent study in which 80 percent of middle- and upper-class white female cancer patients were receiving antidepressants," study author Kathleen Ell, a professor of social work at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, said in a prepared statement.

Ell and her collegues studied 472 women with breast or gynecologic cancer being treated at a large urban public medical center. Nearly 80 percent of the women were Latina. Most were Spanish speaking, foreign-born and insured under Medi-Cal or limited state or local short-term assistance for specific cancer treatments.

Reporting in the May issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the researchers found that untreated depression in minority women with cancer was linked to economic and health literacy barriers.

"Depressed women were significantly more likely to report fears about receiving treatment and side effects, lack of understanding about the treatment being recommended, inability to get all prescribed medications and concerns about lost wages due to illness or medical appointments," Ell said.

Women who were receiving antidepressants were less likely to complain about pain than women not receiving antidepressants, the study found.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about depression and cancer.

SOURCE: University of Southern California, news release, April 28, 2005
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