Age-related longitudinal changes in depressive symptoms following breast cancer diagnosis and treatment
Younger women being treated for breast cancer consistently show greater depression shortly after diagnosis than older women. In this longitudinal study, we examine whether these age differences persist over the first 26 months following diagnosis and identify factors related to change in depressive symptoms. A total of 653 women within 8 months of a first time breast cancer diagnosis completed questionnaires at baseline and three additional timepoints (6, 12, and 18 months after baseline) on contextual/patient characteristics, symptoms, and psychosocial variables. Chart reviews provided cancer and treatment-related data. The primary outcome was depressive symptomatology assessed by the Beck Depression Inventory. Among women younger than age 65, depressive symptoms were highest soon after diagnosis and significantly decreased over time. Depressive symptoms remained stable and low for women aged 65 and older. Age was no longer significantly related to depressive symptoms in multivariable analyses controlling for a wide range of covariates. The primary factors related to levels of and declines in depressive symptomatology were the ability to pay for basics; completing chemotherapy with doxorubicin; and decreases in pain, vasomotor symptoms, illness intrusiveness, and passive coping. Increased sense of meaning/peace and social support were related to decreased depression. Interventions to reduce symptoms and illness intrusiveness, improve a sense of meaning and peace, and increase social support, may help reduce depression and such interventions may be especially relevant for younger women.