Background: Lung cancer is a major health problem throughout the world. It is the leading cause of cancer-related death in men and women in the USA, with a 5-year survival rate of only 14%. It has been hypothesized that variables such as physical and social functioning, cancer-related symptomatology, comorbid conditions, cell type, and treatment are valid predictors of the psychological response to a diagnosis of lung cancer.

Methods: As part of a larger longitudinal study, 211 patients, 65 years of age or older, with an incident diagnosis of lung cancer, were recruited from 23 sites within a midwestern state. Repeated measures analysis of variance techniques were used to analyse how age, gender, comorbid conditions, stage of disease, cell type, as well as the time-dependent variables symptoms, physical functioning, social functioning, and treatment predict depressive symptomatology at four assessments over the first year following diagnosis.

Results: Social functioning (p<0.0001), symptoms severity (p<0.0001) and radiation treatment (p=0.017) were significant predictors of depressive symptomatology, with more symptoms and more restricted social functioning generally corresponding to higher levels of depressive symptomatology. Patients who had not received radiation treatment were more depressed than those who had received treatment at least 40 days prior to the interview.

Conclusions: At a clinical level of patient care, these findings mandate early identification of psychosocial difficulties experienced, an individualized symptom management plan and the application of other interventions, such as information giving, reassurance and referral to other resources. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.