Head and Neck Cancer Patients Likely to Face Depression

Dentistry Today


Head and neck cancer is devastating enough, impacting fundamental bodily functions like eating, speaking, and breathing in addition to high mortality rates. It is no wonder that the disease comes with significant mental and emotional costs as well. In fact, men older than the age of 50 years who were suffering specifically from oral cancer were 56% more likely to be admitted to a hospital for depression, according to the Howard University College of Dentistry

In response, the Oral Health Foundation is calling for greater emotional support of elderly oral cancer patients. It is appealing to the family, friends, and caregivers of these patients to be vigilant about their emotional states and try to offer them the support they need to help them avoid any psychological problems that could affect the outcome of their treatment.

“This research is extremely concerning when you consider that most people who are diagnosed with mouth cancer are men over the age of 50. We must be alert to this issue and offer comprehensive emotional support even before they are diagnosed,” said Dr. Nigel Carter, OBE, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation.

“A patient’s emotional state has such a huge impact on the potential outcome of their illness,” Carter said. “Research shows that many mouth cancer patients who are suffering from depression are less likely to participate in important treatment decisions and to seek the medical and emotional support needed to achieve a positive outcome in their illness.”

Looking at the overall data, the researchers found that male head and neck cancer patients older than the age of 50 years with depression were 28% more likely to be admitted to a hospital with depression following a visit to an emergency room. The problem was even larger for women with head and neck cancer oldet than 50, with a 31% increase in the likelihood of hospital admission following an emergency room visit.

“The very nature of mouth cancer treatment is undoubtedly a major issue here,” said Carter. “It can deprive sufferers of many of the basic things that we often take for granted, simple things like the ability to say hello or have a conversation, or feed themselves, or even breathe have such a huge impact that is unsurprising that many patients are at risk of depression.”

Head and neck cancer accounts for 3% of all cancers in the United States, with 61,760 diagnoses and 13,190 deaths each year, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Cancer Research UK reports that head and neck cancers have increased by 68% during the last 20 years in England, diagnosed in 11,449 adults there each year. It is one of the few cancers that is seeing a rise in the number of cases.

“We all have to be alert to this problem,” said Carter. “I am urging patients to reach out to their friends, family, and caregivers if they feel need of any support and also to get into contact with cancer support groups, such as the Swallows or Macmillan, which can help them come to terms with elements of their illness.”

The study, “Depression and hospital admission in older patients with head and Neck Cancer: Analysis of a National Healthcare Database,” was published by Gerodontology.

Related Articles

Rising Claims Reflect a Need for Better Oral Cancer Detection

Oral Cancer Struggles With Three Misconceptions

It Only Takes a Moment to Detect Oral Cancer