A new study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health has found that a history of depression may increase a woman& Study Links Depression to Breast Cancer Risk (dateline October 9, 2000) | Breast Health News | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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Study Links Depression to Breast Cancer Risk (dateline October 9, 2000)

A new study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health has found that a history of depression may increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.   According to the researchers, depression may change the way the body works and produces disease. Further research on the connection between depression and breast cancer risk could eventually help with the prevention of breast cancer.

In the study, researchers interviewed 3,109 healthy individuals in East Baltimore in 1981 to determine if any of the participants had ever suffered from major depression or from dysphoric episodes (short periods of feeling down). Thirteen years later in 1994, the researchers followed up with the women to determine how many had developed cancer.

The results of the study revealed that women with a history of depression were nearly four times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who had never been depressed. The researchers also found a link between prostate cancer and depression, although these data were determined to be inconclusive.

"Some forms of cancer tend to grow in response to hormones like estrogen and testosterone in a way we wouldn’t expect with lung or colon cancer," said researcher Joseph Gallo, MD in a Johns Hopkins press release. "There’s all this talk of mental disorders and physical disorders, but it’s people who have these disturbances. The separation between the body and the mind is an artificial construct that this type of study invalidates," said Dr. Gallo.

While several studies have investigated the impact of depression on breast cancer survival, the Johns Hopkins study is one of the first focused on depression that precedes cancer. Though further research is needed, the researchers say that the next step is to discover why depression may increase breast cancer risk.

In previous research, the Johns Hopkins research team also found that patients with a history of depression were more than twice as likely to suffer from diabetes and over four times as likely to suffer heart attacks

Known risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Early menstruation (before age 12)
  • Late menopause (after age 50)
  • Delayed childbirth (after age 30) or having no children
  • Alcohol and smoking

Women should perform monthly breast self-exams (beginning at age 20), receive clinical breast exams (beginning at age 20), and receive yearly screening mammograms (beginning at age 40) to help detect breast cancer in its earliest stages, when the chances of survival are the greatest.

Guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer:

  • All women between 20 and 39 years of age should practice monthly breast self-exams and have a physician performed clinical breast exam at least every three years.
  • All women 40 years of age and older should have annual screening mammograms, practice monthly breast self-exams, and have yearly clinical breast exams.
  • Women with a family history of breast cancer or those who test positive for the BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) or BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2) mutations may want to talk to their physicians about beginning annual screening mammograms earlier than age 40, as early as age 25 in some cases.

Additional Resources and References

  • The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health study discussed in this article is published in the September 2000 issue of Cancer Causes and Control.
  • The September 20, 2000 Johns Hopkins School of Public Health press release, "Depressed Women Found to Be at Greater Risk for Breast Cancer," is available at http://www.usnewswire.com/topnews/Current_Releases/0920-120.html
  • To learn more about the risk factors for breast cancer, please visit http://www.imaginis.com/breasthealth/bc_risks.asp
  • The June 27, 2000 Imaginis.com report "Advanced Breast Cancer Patients With High Stress Levels Less Likely to Survive," is available at http://www.imaginis.com/breasthealth/news/news6.27a.00.asp
  • Bernie Siegel, MD, retired general and pediatric surgeon, founded the program, Exceptional Cancer Patients, to help patients deal with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer on an emotional level. Dr. Siegel is also the author of several books that deal with emotional well-being. To learn more about Dr. Siegel and Exceptional Cancer Patients, please visit http://www.ecap-online.org/