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Stigma, Shame Can Worsen Depression in Lung Cancer Patients

THURSDAY, March 29 (HealthDay News) -- Feelings of shame, social isolation and rejection can heighten depression in lung cancer patients, a new study finds.

The findings may help explain why depression is more common among lung cancer patients than among patients with other kinds of cancer, according to the researchers at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla.

"Given its strong association with tobacco use, lung cancer is commonly viewed as a preventable disease," study co-author Paul Jacobsen said in a Moffitt news release. "Consequently, patients may blame themselves for developing lung cancer and feel stigmatized. Even lung cancer patients who have never smoked often felt -- accurately or inaccurately -- that they were being blamed for their disease by friends, loved ones and even health-care professionals."

For the study, the researchers gave mental-health questionnaires to lung cancer patients and found that 38 percent of them suffered from depression. Greater levels of perceived stigma were associated with greater levels of depression.

The study was published in the March issue of the journal Psycho-Oncology.

"Documenting this link between stigma and depression is important because it adds further evidence to the growing body of research suggesting a link between illness-related stigma and the symptoms of depression," Jacobsen said. "For example, studies on depression and HIV have found similar links between disease, stigma and depression."

The findings suggest that psychotherapeutic approaches might be useful in treating or preventing depression in lung cancer patients, study co-author Brian Gonzalez said.

"Many approaches to reducing perceived stigma focus on education of the public about lung cancer inaccuracies and stereotypes, and replacing those inaccuracies with facts," Gonzalez said in the news release.

"Instead, therapy that focuses on altering the patient's thoughts and feelings associated with their perceptions of stigma may prove effective in reducing depressive symptoms," Gonzalez said. "For example, emphasizing the addictiveness of tobacco products and the deception in tobacco-industry advertising could help patients view themselves as being 'wronged' rather than as a 'wrongdoer.'"

More information

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

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Moffitt Cancer Center, news release, March 23, 2012

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