Studies have shown that major depression affects approximately 25% of breast cancer patients. However, the good news is that it has recognizable symptoms that are treatable.
Breast Health and Mental Health
Knowing where you stand with breast cancer, especially for people who are at high risk, can significantly reduce your anxiety. Screening can pick up cancer before any symptoms appear at all, making breast cancer a survivable diagnosis.
Some of the guidelines to follow include doing a monthly breast self-examination, an annual clinical breast examination by a healthcare professional, and going for an annual mammogram from the age of 40.
Should a breast cancer diagnosis be received, the mental and emotional impact of the diagnosis must not be discounted. There is the possible trauma of the diagnosis, the physiological side-effects of the various treatments, the dramatic changes to your body following mastectomy and reconstruction as well as side effects from radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
Navigating breast cancer
Some practical things will help navigate the diagnosis and treatment while minimizing the risk of depression. These include:
- Set realistic day-to-day goals. Be gentle with yourself and do not expect that you will be able to do everything you did in the past.
- Human connection is important, especially if you are an older patient. If you are having to self-isolate, try to be in some form of contact with other people for at least an hour a day.
- You must have someone to talk to and confide in. Whether it’s a professional, friend, or family member.
- Participation in positive events/actions can be very helpful. Playing music, painting and other activities that have positive emotional connotations are great options.
- Good nutrition is vital. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein will bolster the immune system and aid in your well-being. Try to cut down on your sugar intake.
- Exercise is proven to reduce stress and ease depression. As exercise in restricted circumstances can be a little difficult – reach out to your friends, family (and your doctor) for some exercise routine ideas that you can do at home.
- Alcohol should be avoided as it is known to make depression worse and can interfere with antidepressant medicine.
Breast cancer in younger women
Another breast cancer diagnosis that can lead to upheaval is a diagnosis in a young woman. Younger women often experience chemotherapy-induced premature ovarian failure; this means loss of fertility, as well as higher emotional distress and poorer quality of life.
I recommend the following as a short list for younger women to follow:
- If you have a suggestive family history, genetic counseling, and testing can help you identify the underlying issues that, in turn, could help guide your future screening and lead to preventative action.
- Do a monthly breast self-examination
- Seeking help early should you have any cause for concern or notice any issues. Approximately 90% of cancers diagnosed at an early stage can be cured!
- Follow a healthy diet. This goes a long way in preventing cancer.
- Achieve and maintain your ideal body weight, as obesity is known to increase one’s risk of cancer.
- Follow a healthy and active lifestyle. Exercise can reduce your breast cancer risk by up to 30%.
- Avoid alcohol and cigarette smoking.
It’s important to note, however, that not all the aforementioned tips will work for everyone. If you are showing signs of depression, it is essential that you speak to your doctor and get the medical help that you need.
Remember, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and emotional maturity.
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 Massie MJ, Holland JC: The cancer patient with pain: psychiatric complications and their management. Med Clin North Am 71 (2): 243-58, 1987. [PUBMED Abstract]; Lynch ME: The assessment and prevalence of affective disorders in advanced cancer. J Palliat Care 11 (1): 10-8, 1995 Spring. [PUBMED Abstract]
 Lee, H. B., & Han, W. (2014). Unique features of young age breast cancer and its management. Journal of Breast Cancer, 17(4), 301–307. https://doi.org/10.4048/jbc.2014.17.4.301