Pharmacological treatment of depression in patients with a primary brain tumour

People with brain tumours may experience epilepsy, memory problems and fatigue. Depression is also common and doctors might choose to treat this with antidepressants, since antidepressants are thought to be effective in other patients. However, antidepressants could be less effective, or could cause more side effects, in patients with brain tumours.

The review authors researched whether any drugs have been proven to be effective, and whether they cause significant side effects when prescribed to treat depression in patients with brain tumours. They searched the medical journal literature to find high-quality studies comparing the effectiveness of any one drug treatment for depression in patients with a brain tumour against another treatment. Despite a thorough search, the authors could not find any studies and so cannot determine whether any drug is of any benefit. The review authors conclude that it is important to research whether drugs can treat depression safely and effectively in people with brain tumours.

Authors' conclusions: 

No high-quality studies have examined the value of pharmacological treatment of depression in patients with a primary brain tumour. RCTs and detailed prospective studies are required to inform the effective pharmacological treatment of this common and important complication of brain tumours. Since the last version of this review none of the new relevant studies have provided additional information to change these conclusions.

Read the full abstract...

This is an updated version of the original Cochrane review published in Issue 3, 2010.

Patients with a primary brain tumour often experience depression, for which drug treatment may be prescribed. However, these patients are also at high risk of epileptic seizures, cognitive impairment and fatigue, all of which are potential side effects of antidepressants. The benefit, or harm, of pharmacological treatment of depression in brain tumour patients is unclear.


To assess the benefits and harms of pharmacological treatment of depression in patients with a primary brain tumour.

Search strategy: 

We updated the search to include the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2012, Issue 10), MEDLINE to October 2012, EMBASE to October 2012 and PsycINFO to October 2012. We searched the British Nursing Index, LILACS, PSYNDEX, the NHS National Research Register, the NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination's Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effectiveness (DARE) and Web of Knowledge (covering Science Scisearch, Social Sciences Citation Index and Biological Abstracts) for the original review (to July 2009). In the original review we also handsearched Neuro-oncology, the Journal of Neuro-oncology, the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry and the Journal of Clinical Oncology (July 1999 to June 2009) and wrote to all the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing antidepressants for use in the UK.

Selection criteria: 

We searched for all randomised controlled trials (RCTs), controlled clinical trials, cohort studies and case-control studies of any pharmacological treatment of depression in patients with a histologically diagnosed primary brain tumour.

Data collection and analysis: 

No studies met the inclusion criteria.

Main results: 

We found no eligible studies evaluating the benefits of any pharmacological treatment of depression in brain tumour patients.