Individuals with cancer often experience stress throughout the cancer trajectory and have a high risk of experiencing depression.
The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between allostatic load (AL), a measure of cumulative stress-related physiologic dysregulation of different body systems, and symptoms of depression in cancer survivors.
Participants were 294 adult cancer survivors from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2007-2018). Allostatic load was measured using 14 indicators representing cardiometabolic risk, glucose metabolism, cardiopulmonary functioning, parasympathetic functioning, and inflammation. Depressive symptoms were measured with the Patient Health Questionnaire-9. The relationship between AL and depressive symptoms was investigated using multiple regression adjusted for diverse sociodemographic and diagnosis variables.
Higher AL was associated with higher depressive symptom scores. The higher risk of depression was concentrated among those survivors in the highest AL quartile, with 21% (95% confidence interval, 11%-32%) of survivors presenting a high risk of depression compared with 8% to 11% of survivors in the lower quartiles. In exploratory analyses, the relationship between AL and depressive symptoms was only significant among survivors with a lower income. In contrast, in survivors in the highest income group, depressive symptoms were lower and unrelated to AL.
High AL is associated with more depressive symptoms among cancer survivors.
Implications for Practice
Nurses have an important role in identifying psychological distress in cancer patients and survivors. Further research is needed to investigate the usefulness of AL as a marker in the context of cancer follow-up care and screening for psychological distress.