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Light Therapy for Cancer Patients

By Alice G. Walton

It is not uncommon for cancer patients to be depressed. Light therapy can be a non-invasive treatment.

Depression can be a serious issue for people who have or have had cancer. It can last for years after treatment is over, even if the person is in full remission. Medication or talk therapy can help, but there may be a better way to head off depression in cancer patients. according to a new study — light therapy.

Light therapy has gotten a lot of attention in recent years for its effectiveness in treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression. And more recently, it’s been found to help clinical depression as well, which gives a lot of hope to people suffering from depression and for whom antidepressants or talk therapy simply aren’t effective enough.

Cancer survivors enrolled in the study sat either in front of white light or dim red light for 30 minutes every morning for one month. Before beginning the treatments, researchers screened the participants for depression and tracked their sleep-wake cycles. Depression is known to disturb the sleep-wake cycle, and it’s thought that light therapy may help regulate it.

After the month of treatments, the participants who were depressed at the beginning of the study and who got the white light therapy had improvements in their depression and in their sleep-wake cycles. Those who were depressed but received the red light therapy had no change.

“Depressive symptoms are common among cancer survivors even years after treatment has ended,” said researcher, Heiddis Valdimarsdottir, in a news release. “This interferes with overall quality of life and puts survivors at risk for poor outcomes including death.”

And the even better news is that light therapy is accessible and low-cost. It also seems to come without side effects. Said study author William Redd, “Our findings suggest light therapy, a rather non-invasive therapy, may provide an innovative way to decrease depression among cancer survivors.”

One of out four cancer patients deals with depression, according to the American Cancer Society. And perhaps not surprisingly, considering the physical and emotional tolls that cancer diagnosis and treatment can take, depression doesn’t just disappear after the cancer is gone. It can persist. And as with any kind of depression, cancer-related depression can require trying different treatments, until you find the right one or the right combination.

Based on this new study, light therapy appears to be a promising tool for helping treat depression. It may be especially beneficial for people who hope to avoid putting yet another drug into their systems.

The study was carried out at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and presented at the American Psychosomatic Society Annual Meeting.

March 29, 2016



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