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Can oncology nurses treat depression? A pilot project


  • Vanessa Strong BA RN,

  • Michael Sharpe MD,

  • Ann Cull PhD,

  • Peter Maguire MD,

  • Allan House MD FRCP FRCPsych,

  • Amanda Ramirez MD FRCP FRCPsych

Vanessa Strong,
Department of Psychiatry,
University of Edinburgh,
Kennedy Tower,
Royal Edinburgh Hospital,
Edinburgh EH10 5HF,


Background.  Depression is a common problem in all medically ill populations. Reported prevalence rates of major depression in patients with cancer are up to 50%. Cancer patients attending primary care and medical outpatient clinics with comorbid major depressive disorder frequently do not receive effective treatment. More effective ways of identifying and treating patients with both cancer and depression are therefore urgently required.

Aim.  The paper reports a study addressing the question of whether oncology nurses can be trained to take on a greater role in the management of major depression in their patients.

Method.  We developed and piloted an intervention that can be delivered by a specially trained oncology nurse. The intervention is multifaceted and based on a problem-solving model. It requires a widening of the role and expertise of specialist nurses.

Discussion.  The challenges this role presents to the nurses are discussed. We suggest that they must have a varied work programme that is not exclusively about managing depression, that they require adequate peer support and are likely to be most effective when working as part of a multidisciplinary psycho-oncology team.

Conclusion.  We conclude that it is possible to train selected specialist oncology nurses to manage major depression in patients with cancer in the context of an appropriately constituted multidisciplinary team.