Depression and Skin Cancer

Community Member

Patients who are diagnosed with skin cancer may go through an array of emotional reactions including disbelief, anxiety   and sadness. You may worry about the severity of your condition, if you will need surgery or other invasive treatments, and whether or not you will be disfigured by your skin cancer. You may have concerns about your prognosis especially if you are diagnosed with a life threatening melanoma.   All of these fears and worries can seem overwhelming. In addition to experiencing anxiety, some of you may also develop depression.

Some members of Skin Cancer Connection have reported feelings of depression especially following surgery when they see the wound. One member discusses her "post-op depression" following her Mohs surgery for a basal cell carcinoma. Although the surgery was successful she still felt down and teary. This may not be such an uncommon reaction. The University of Michigan Depression Center discusses the experience of post surgical depression where they say: "Depression and/or anxiety are often experienced after surgical procedures, at various times post operatively (immediately or months later)." If you experience on-going depression following your surgery it may be time to talk to your doctor.

Patients who must endure multiple surgeries and procedures including skin grafts to correct the defect caused by their skin cancer may also be vulnerable to depression. There may be grief involved as when member Tracy writes, "I am 32 and would love to have my old nose back." But then she adds that beauty is within despite having many "warrior scars" to show what all she has been through. Some patients may go through a mourning process that they may not look exactly what they looked like prior to their surgery.

Melanoma patients can be especially vulnerable to developing depression due to the stress of having a life threatening skin cancer which can reoccur even after treatment. But another reason that melanoma patients may be susceptible to depression is that some of the forms of treatment to treat the cancer can also cause depression. One such treatment for melanoma is immunotherapy   which may use either interferon or interleukin-2. Both are immune boosting drugs. The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center   provides an estimate that up to a fourth of patients treated with Interferon develop depression as a side effect.

A 2001 New Scientist article also reports that depression can be induced through the use of interferon or interleukin-2. In some cases an antidepressant may be prescribed to patients who struggle with this side effect of the skin cancer treatment drugs.

If you feel as though you are suffering from depression or anxiety it is important that you reach out and tell someone. You don't have to suffer needlessly as there is treatment and support for whatever you are currently going through.

The symptoms of depression may include:

  • Depressed or sad mood on most days

  • Total or very noticeable loss of pleasure most of the time

  • Significant increases or decreases in appetite, weight, or both

  • Sleep disorders, either insomnia or excessive sleepiness, nearly every day

  • Feelings of agitation or a sense of intense slowness

  • Loss of energy and a daily sense of tiredness

  • Sense of guilt or worthlessness nearly all the time

  • Inability to concentrate occurring nearly every day

  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

If you have been experiencing several or more of these symptoms for two weeks or more, or you are struggling to function in the day to day, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. Don't wait to seek help for depression. The more you wait, the more entrenched your depression can become.

Health Central provides information, resources and support to anyone who needs it. Here are several sites which may be of help:

  • If you want more information and/or support for your skin cancer please visit us here on Skin Cancer Connection