Antidepressant Use During Treatment for Mesothelioma

The damaging effects of asbestos exposure don’t only impinge on a person’s physical health. Victims of asbestos-related illnesses suffer psychologically, as well. In this exclusive ongoing series, we’ll shed some light on that other side of terminal illness by examining the impact of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases on mental and emotional health-not just for patients but for their loved ones as well.

Some of the topics we’ll cover include: psychiatric conditions common to victims of mesothelioma cancer and other related conditions, how to share news of a terminal diagnosis with loved ones, coping with grief and loss, types and stages of the bereavement process, self-help techniques for managing mental health during treatment and more.

Mesothelioma and Mental Health-PART NINE

Antidepressant medications are frequently prescribed to patients suffering from anxiety and/or major depression during treatment for mesothelioma. However, researchers have raised concerns about the potential interactions between these drugs and others being used to treat effects of both the cancer and aggressive forms of treatment like radiation and chemotherapy-causing some mental healthcare professionals to be wary about recommending psychiatric drugs for patients suffering from mesothelioma and other malignancies.

Drug Interactions-Frequency and Consequences

A recent study of 297 patients undergoing cancer treatment at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC) in Houston determined that potentially harmful interactions between one or more prescribed antidepressants and one or more other concurrently prescribed medications occurred at a considerable rate of frequency-and caused an increased occurrence of both ER visits and major hospitalizations. However, after the study was published, many oncologists expressed concern that those results could be very misleading-potentially causing patients undergoing treatment for mesothelioma and other cancers to shy away from much needed pharmacologic intervention.

Conflicting Clinical Evidence and Potential Immune-Boosting Effects

One study in particular, conducted three years prior to the M.D. Anderson research, reported evidence of antidepressants acting as an ally to conventional cancer treatments-boosting the body’s immune system response and possibly helping in the fight against cancer cells. Though further studies would need to replicate those findings in order to solidify the suggestion that antidepressants should actually be considered a form of complimentary treatment for malignant mesothelioma and other cancers, the evidence is compelling and certainly provides a stark contrast to reports of antidepressants as potentially dangerous to patients.

The Risk-Benefit Factor

It’s important to note when weighing the evidence that virtually no medication on the market today is considered 100 percent safe. It’s only fair to say that all drugs-whether homeopathic, over-the-counter or a Schedule II controlled substance-have warnings of potential side effects from the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies. Because those undergoing any form of either conventional or alternative mesothelioma treatment are generally taking as many as 10 or more different medications concurrently, it is difficult to say which of those are most likely to have negative interactions. And whether an antidepressant is included in the regime or not, the potential for some type of drug interaction is clearly there.

Most mental healthcare professionals guide patients towards safe and mindful decisions about choosing a form of treatment for depression and/or anxiety by using a risk-benefit comparison. That is to say, they encourage and help patients to weight the possible risks of using a particular medication against the benefits that may be gained from taking it.