The Link Between Lung Cancer and Depression

Cancer is a disease that occurs when some cells in the body grow out of control and spread to other parts of the body, causing damage. Lung cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the lungs, but it can spread and affect other areas of the body, as well.

Depression is a mental health condition that involves feelings of sadness or decreased interest in activities. About 25% of people with cancer experience depression.

This article will discuss lung cancer and depression, signs of depression, treatment options, and tips for preventing symptoms of depression.

a woman and an older man who is touching his chest are having a discussion with a nurse

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Lung Cancer and Depression

Receiving a cancer diagnosis and going through treatment can be hard, and it can lead to sad or even hopeless thoughts and feelings. Any serious physical health condition can impact mental health, but there may be more to it with lung cancer.

Lung Cancer and Mental Health Statistics

People with lung cancer experience depression at a rate of 21%–44% compared to a rate of 7%–23% among people with other types of cancer.

There is a stigma, or negative association, with lung cancer that stems from the connection between smoking and lung cancer.

A stigma can lead to:

  • Negative thoughts of self or from others; low self-esteem
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, or self-blame
  • Bullying or negative interactions with others

Mental Health Helpline

If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Signs of Depression

The signs of depression vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. To be diagnosed with depression, a person must experience a decreased mood or decreased interest or enjoyment in daily activities for at least two weeks, along with some of the following symptoms.

  • Ongoing feelings of sadness, anxiety, or numbness (like feeling is lost)
  • Hopelessness, guilt, low self-worth, or excessive pessimism
  • Irritable mood, excessive frustration, or anger
  • Decreased interest in or pleasure from once-enjoyed activities
  • Fatigue, less energy, or slow movement, talking, or response
  • Restlessness or urges to move
  • Memory, concentration, or decision-making challenges
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits, either increase or decrease
  • Unexplained aches, pains, or discomforts
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts or thoughts of death

Suicide Prevention Helpline

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Getting Help

Depression is treatable, and there are many things people can do to cope. It is important to get help when depression is identified or suspected.

Resources are available, including:

  • Primary care providers
  • Mental health providers (therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists)
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255)
  • Support groups

Medical professionals are able to check for depression with questionnaires and by asking questions. These screenings are often covered by insurance and there may not be any charge to the patient.

Treatment

The most common treatment options for depression are medications and talk therapy. Sometimes medications and talk therapy are used together. Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, is a form of therapy that uses electric currents to stimulate or adjust the brain that may be used in some cases when medications and talk therapy are not effective.

Medications for depression include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

Psychotherapy methods for depression include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to change outcomes.
  • Interpersonal therapy focuses on relationships, communication skills, and conflict resolution.
  • Problem-solving therapy uses specific tools and strategies to learn how to manage stress and overcome challenges.
  • Psychodynamic therapy considers childhood experiences and how past experiences can be used to change outcomes.
  • Relationship or family therapy involves talk therapy with intimate partners or family members to help cope together.

Lifestyle changes and coping strategies may also be helpful for depression. These options include:

  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Gratitude practices
  • Learning about depression
  • Stress relief
  • Volunteering
  • Spending time with friends and family

Prevention

It is important for people who are more likely to experience depression and other mental health challenges, such as people with long-term physical health conditions like cancer, to get preventive support—therapy that can help avert depression symptoms before they start.

Talk therapy or counseling can be used as preventive support. For example, a person diagnosed with lung cancer, but with no signs of depression, can talk with a mental health professional to cope with the challenges of a cancer diagnosis and treatment in the hopes of avoiding some of the mental health challenges that can surface.

Preventive therapy can help a person with cancer to:

  • Process thoughts, feelings, and emotions
  • Learn coping strategies
  • Better communicate with family, friends, and their healthcare team
  • Follow through with treatment plans
  • Identify their needs and how to get those needs met

Summary

There are connections between lung cancer and depression. People with lung cancer are more likely to experience depression, even more than people with other types of cancer.

Depression is treatable, and multiple options are available, including talk therapy, medications, or both. It is important to seek help for depression to improve both depression symptoms and lung cancer outcomes.

A Word From Verywell

Lung cancer diagnosis and treatment can be challenging, and facing depression at the same time can be even more challenging. If you or someone you know is showing signs of depression, such as feelings of sadness or decreased interest in activities, help is available. Seek support from a healthcare professional such as a primary care or mental health provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does cancer increase your chances of depression?

    Stressful life events, including physical illness such as cancer, increase the risk of depression. People with lung cancer and other types of cancer do experience depression at higher rates. However, depression is treatable, and not everyone with cancer will be diagnosed with depression.

  • How can you prevent depression?

    Depression can be prevented with preventive talk therapy provided by a mental health professional after your cancer diagnosis. Lifestyle changes such as nutrition, exercise, and spending time with friends and family may also help.

  • What is the national helpline for depression?

    The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a phone number to call for emotional support, especially if there are thoughts of self-harm, harm to others, or suicide. It is available 24/7. The number to call is 800-273-8255.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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