Myeloma Cancer And Depression

Grieving is normal when you have just been diagnosed with cancer. Perhaps you’ve watched other people suffer with cancer and have an idea of what might lie ahead. Most people begin to find ways to cope with their diagnosis within a few weeks. Others have more difficulty coping and become clinically depressed.

According to the American Cancer Society (2009), approximately 25 percent of people develop depression with cancer. Some studies suggest that the figures may be slightly higher for myeloma cancer and depression.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental disorder (or mood disorder) characterized by abnormally low moods that persist for two or more weeks. Depression prevents you from participating in normal, everyday life. Some people experience depression only once in their lives, while others suffer from repeated episodes. Depression is known as “clinical depression,” “major depression” or “unipolar depression.”

What Causes Depression?

Depression doesn’t have one single cause. For most people, depression is the culmination of several risk factors. For example, some people have a family history of depression or certain biochemical features in their brains that predispose them to depression. However, they may not actually develop symptoms of depression until these factors are compounded by other risk factors such as chronic stress, insomnia or medication side effects.

Depression can result from major life changes, which is the most significant risk factor for people who develop depression in cancer. For people with multiple myeloma, an excess of calcium in the blood known as hypercalcemia can also cause depression.

Symptoms of Depression

Because depression affects different people in different ways, the symptoms of depression can vary widely. However, the most common symptoms of depression include:

  • Agitation or irritability
  • Changes in appetite (or weight fluctuations)
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (i.e. insomnia or oversleeping)
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of hopelessness or sadness or that you’re a burden to your loved ones
  • Guilt
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in daily activities or hobbies
  • Low self-esteem
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Suicidal thoughts.

Some prescription medications produce similar side effects, but don’t assume your symptoms of depression are simply due to your medication. Talk to your doctor about how you feel.

Treatment and Support for Depression with Cancer

Depression is a highly treatable disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (2009), 80 to 90 percent of individuals respond well to depression treatment. Most people find antidepressant medication and psychotherapy (counseling) very effective for relieving their depression.

Your oncologist may recommend a counselor who is experienced in issues affecting people with both myeloma cancer and depression. You might consider joining a cancer support group. Talking with other people who understand the challenges you face is an invaluable resource for coping strategies, encouragement and support when dealing with depression in cancer.


American Cancer Society. (2009). How do I cope? Retrieved September 28, 2010, from

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2006). Understanding depression. Retrieved September 29, 2010, from Depressive_Illness/depressive_ill_understanding.html

Mayo Clinic. (2010). Depression (major depression): Definition. Retrieved September 29, 2010, from

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2009). Major depression: Fact sheet. Retrieved September 29, 2010, from /Mental_Illnesses_What_is_Depression.htm