Effect of Depression on Inflammation and Lung Cancer Survival Rate

Experts know that both lung cancer and depression are linked to changes and inflammation in the immune system. In a 2023 study, a research team at the University of Ohio looked at how depression affected outcomes in people with lung cancer through its impact on the immune system. The study linked depression to worse outcomes for people with lung cancer.1

The study included 186 people who were newly diagnosed with advanced (stage IV) non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Researchers used a standard survey to screen participants for major depression. Based on the survey, the researchers gave participants a score from 0 to 27. A higher score indicated more severe depression.1

What is the role of inflammation?

The researchers also performed blood tests to look for signs of inflammation. Inflammation is a normal immune system process that protects the body from injury or infection.1-3

But long-lasting inflammation can be harmful. Studies have shown that long-term inflammation is linked to many health problems, including depression and cancer.1-3

How do biomarkers look for inflammation?

The research team used several blood tests (called biomarkers) to look for inflammation in the body. The tests measured certain parts of the blood known to play a role in immune response and tumor growth.1

The following biomarkers were used to estimate each person's level of inflammation and predict outcomes:1

NLR (neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio) – Higher levels mean increased inflammation.
PLR (platelet-to-lymphocyte ratio) – Higher levels mean increased inflammation.
ALI (advanced lung cancer inflammation index) – Lower levels predict worse outcomes in people with lung cancer.

Previous studies have shown that these biomarkers can predict overall survival in people with lung cancer. The University of Ohio study looked at the link between these biomarker levels and depression.1

The link between depression and inflammation in people with lung cancer

More than 1 in 3 people studied had moderate or severe depression. And more than 1 in 2 people had biomarker levels that pointed to high levels of inflammation.

People with moderate to severe depression were up to 3 times more likely to have high levels of inflammation. And these people were twice as likely to die within 2 years than people who had lower levels of inflammation.1

These results suggest that depression may contribute to increased inflammation and worse outcomes in people with lung cancer.1

Symptoms of depression

It is normal to experience sadness, grief, and fear when you are diagnosed with lung cancer. But if these feelings occur daily for weeks and interfere with your daily life, it may be a sign of depression. The University of Ohio study suggests that depression may have a negative effect on your treatment response and survival.1,4

It is important to address depression as part of your overall lung cancer treatment plan. If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, talk to your doctor about your mental health.4

Symptoms of depression include:4

  • Sadness and hopelessness
  • Irritability and anger
  • Feeling numb, worthless, or guilty
  • Loss of motivation and interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Frequent crying
  • Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping more than normal
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • If you are having symptoms of depression or have considered harming yourself, seek help. Reach out to your healthcare team, friends, family, or a crisis center.4

    The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24/7 online. You can also text or dial 9-8-8 in the United States. The lifeline network is free and confidential for everyone.5

    Managing depression

    Treatments are available that can help ease the symptoms of depression. A combination of the following therapies may help manage depression:4

  • Counseling
  • Medicine
  • Mindfulness activities like meditation, having a spiritual practice, practicing yoga, and journaling
  • A lung cancer support group
  • Your healthcare team is on your side

    Work with your healthcare team to develop a plan that works best for you. If your symptoms do not improve, ask your doctor about different treatment options.

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