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Studies evaluating depression's role in lung cancer risk revealed contradictory findings, partly because of the small number of cases, short follow-up periods, and failure to account for key covariates including smoking exposure. We investigated the association of depressive symptoms with lung cancer risk in a large prospective cohort over 24 years while considering the role of smoking.
Women from the Nurses' Health Study completed measures of depressive symptoms, sociodemographics, and other factors including smoking in 1992 (N = 42 913). Depressive symptoms were also queried in 1996 and 2000, whereas regular antidepressant use and physician-diagnosed depression were collected starting in 1996. Multivariable Cox regression models estimated hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) of lung cancer risk until 2016.
We identified 1009 cases of lung cancer. Women with the highest v. lowest level of depressive symptoms had an increased lung cancer risk (HRsociodemographics-adjusted = 1.62, 95% CI 1.34–1.95; HRfully-adjusted = 1.25, 95% CI 1.04–1.51). In a test of mediation, lifetime pack-years of smoking accounted for 38% of the overall association between depressive symptoms and disease risk. When stratifying by smoking status, the elevated risk was evident among former smokers but not current or never smokers; however, the interaction term suggested no meaningful differences across groups (p = 0.29). Results were similar or stronger when considering time-updated depression status (using depressive symptoms, physician diagnosis, and regular antidepressant use) and chronicity of depressive symptoms.
These findings suggest that greater depressive symptoms may contribute to lung cancer incidence, directly and indirectly via smoking habits, which accounted for over a third of the association.
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