Not Always in the Head: on Tumors and Depression

The vast majority of people who experience depression, anxiety, and related conditions are most likely able to find the source of their difficulties looming in patterns of thinking, stemming from unresolved trauma, or methods of coping with past events. Yet for some people coping with depression, very physical problem may be present; a new study released by researchers with the University of Chicago has shown that the presence of breast tumors in laboratory mice was a significantly strong indicator of depressed or anxious behavior.

While the idea that a looming medical problem will likely have an adverse effect on overall mental health is certainly a valid one, the study suggests that the particular relationship between breast tumors and depression is especially powerful. After careful analysis of cytokines in the brain, the researchers concluded that the presence of tumors was enough to induce depressed and anxious symptoms in the animals. Of course, the results have little to no bearing on the idea that those with depression–a fair percentage of the national and global populations–are especially prone to breast or other cancers. But as the inverse appears to be true in the majority of cases, proponents of therapy and specialized care for patients with cancer may take the research as an important ally for advocacy and change.

Traditionally, ideas about cancer and other serious illnesses have suggested that the sick are simply more prone to feeling low as a result of hospital stays or physical exhaustion. Yet for many people afflicted with physical illness, mental illness may be deeply rooted in the chemical balances of the brain. As more work is undertaken to examine the relationship between tumors and depression, the need for therapists with insight on the impact of sickness on mental health will likely rise.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Eric


    June 2nd, 2009 at 3:52 AM

    Would the same hold true for men as well or is this study just too preliminary to have any conclusive results?

  • dawn


    June 3rd, 2009 at 2:45 AM

    That is very disturbing! There’s always something that goes along with depression and this has got to be one of the worst.

  • Shelley


    June 3rd, 2009 at 3:39 AM

    It does not make any sense that after all of the years that scientists and doctors have been studying psychiatry and the associated problems that something like this would just now be coming out. I have always heard that depression is either triggered by stress or even a hormonal or chemical imbalance.

  • Julia


    June 4th, 2009 at 4:59 PM

    My dad had cancerous tumors and suffered from major depression even as he fought with all of his might for his life. Sometimes I wonder which battle was tougher for him- the physical strain of the chemo and radiation or the emotional strain from the depression.

  • Patsi


    June 8th, 2009 at 2:33 PM

    So many things seems to cause depression. I’m surprised this wasn’t brought up earlier between the cancer and the depression. Any illness to me would cause depression.

  • Faye


    June 9th, 2009 at 3:57 AM

    I agree with you Patsi. It seems that anytime someone has his or her quality of life diminished by a disease it would be natural forthem to fall into a depressive state as well. Their whole way of life and the way that they live will have changed and they may have no clue as to the best ways to deal and cope with this so that their bodies and minds both remain strong.

  • Rita


    June 22nd, 2009 at 1:12 AM

    Does this hold good for people on long term medication too? Some medication are known to cause depression and cancer.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.



* Indicates required field.

Therapist   Treatment Center

Advanced Search

Search Our Blog

Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on