Depression Easy To Diagnose In Cancer Patients Using Two-Question Survey, Research Says

A simple, two-question survey can help medical professionals diagnose major depression in cancer patients, according to research presented Monday at the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s (ASTRO) 55th annual meeting.

The study, authored by William Small Jr., MD, was conducted with 455 cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy at 37 different medical facilities. As part of the the study, patients were asked the following battery of questions, called the Patient Health Questionnaire-2 (PHQ-2).

The two question ask if, over the last two weeks, the patient has experienced:

  1. Little interest or pleasure in doing things
  2. Feeling down, depressed or hopeless

Each question had multiple answer choices, which were given corresponding scores. “Not at all” gave the patient zero points, while “several days” was worth one point, “more than half the days” garnered two points, and “nearly every day” was worth three points. Patients who scored a total of at least 3 points total are considered to be at risk for having depression.

Of those assessed, 75 patients gave positive indicators for depression, a rate of 16 percent. Patients who showed signs of depression symptoms within the study’s parameters were given the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID) Mood Disorder, along with a systematic sample of patients who screened negative. The study showed that screening for depression in a radiotherapy setting was feasible and that mental health services were available at 68 percent of radiation therapy facilities.

The results, like all research findings, should be considered preliminary until subject to peer review.

Small, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology of Loyola University Medical Center, presented his findings at the ASTRO meeting.

“Detection of depression in cancer patients is an important public health priority, and the ability to screen and treat cancer patients for depression can have a major impact on a patient’s quality of life,” Small said.

“We think the results of this large, nationwide trial will have a major impact on how cancer patients are screened for depression.”