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A recent study led by Dr. Jacqueline Kim at the University of California, Los Angeles, analyzed how chronic interpersonal stress and adverse childhood events affect rates of depression in women with invasive breast cancer. Specifically, Dr. Kim was interested in how these factors impact a woman’s rates of depression within a year of her breast cancer diagnosis. It is well-known that depression predicts worse cancer survival. In the general population, minority populations are more likely to experience severely debilitating depression [1].

The study participants included 460 women with invasive breast cancer who were followed for one year. The women were assessed at seven different times for depressive symptoms and major depressive episodes. Statistical analysis was adjusted for sociodemographic and clinical variables of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, medical comorbidities, history of depression and neuroticism, cancer stage and treatments received.

The study ultimately found that women with more chronic interpersonal stress are at higher risk for experiencing persistent depressive symptoms (OR: 3.16, [1.53, 6.51]) and major depressive episodes (OR: 2.28, [1.10, 4.73]) within the first year of their diagnosis with invasive breast cancer. Adverse childhood events were not considered to significantly affect these results. A particular variation in the serotonin transporter was found to moderate these results (b = 0.24, [0.06, 0.41]).

The study concludes that chronic interpersonal stress puts a woman at high risk of experiencing unrelenting major depression in her first year of diagnosis with invasive breast cancer. The study suggests that serotonin transporter variation may contribute to these outcomes. A call to action is made to support early intervention for women with chronic interpersonal stress and this particular serotonin transporter variation to prevent depression after breast cancer diagnosis and improve overall prognosis [2].

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[1] Bailey, R., Mokonogho, J., & Kumar, A. (2019). Racial and ethnic differences in depression: current perspectives. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, Volume 15, 603–609. https://doi.org/10.2147/ndt.s128584


[2] Chronic interpersonal stress predicts depressive outcomes in the first year of invasive breast cancer: Moderation by the serotonin-transporter polymorphism. 2020. https://www.sabcs.org/