UCLA researchers received a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute that will fund a study seeking to uncover risk profiles of breast cancer survivors likely to suffer from depression.
UCLA will be teaming up with Kaiser Permanente, which will provide the 300 volunteers needed for the study by culling through electronic patient records to locate women who have been treated for breast cancer and don't have a history of depression.
Researchers believe that cancer and its treatment induce inflammation, which in turn leads to sleep disturbance and depression. Sleep disturbance occurs in more than half of breast cancer survivors, and is thought to contribute to the nearly four-fold elevated risk of depression in these women. Depression negatively impacts quality of life and increases risk of death, possibly due to increased chance of cancer recurrence.
Through the study, researchers hope to find out if certain sub-sets of breast cancer survivors are more at risk for depression by examining their DNA for potential biomarkers and genetic anomalies. If they can identify a risk profile, a study would be launched later to evaluate prevention measures, said Dr. Michael Irwin, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
"Depression in breast cancer survivors is a huge problem. It often goes undiagnosed and is under treated," Irwin said. "If we can identify those breast cancer survivors at elevated risk for sleep disturbance and, therefore, depression, we can diagnose and treat it earlier with better outcomes. Additionally, if we can identify those at greatest risk, efforts can be implemented early to prevent the occurrence of depression in the first place. Because depression is so prevalent and difficult to treat in breast cancer survivors, prevention of depression will dramatically improve quality of their life."
For many cancer patients, their survival is complicated by long-term physical and behavioral late effects of their treatment, especially depression, Irwin said. The prevalence of depression in breast cancer survivors is nearly three to five times greater than the general population. However, the unique clinical, behavioral and biological factors that contribute to increased depression risk in breast cancer survivors is not known.