Psychopharmacology in the Pediatric Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant Units: Antidepressant Treatment

Orly Lavan, Orit Peled, Meital Avishai-Neumann, Abraham Weizman, Anat Yahel, Alan Apter, Avi Valevski, Silvana Fennig, Jerry Stein, Noa Benaroya-Milshtein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objectives: The aim of this study was to characterize the clinical profiles, tolerability, and efficacy of two groups of antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and the atypical antidepressant, mirtazapine, in children and adolescents treated in a large pediatric Hematology-Oncology center. Methods: A review of computerized medical charts of 32 pediatric patients with cancer, from December 2011 to April 2020, was conducted. Efficacy and tolerability of antidepressant medications were retrospectively analyzed. The Clinical Global Impressions-Severity (CGI-S) and Clinical Global Impressions-Improvement (CGI-I) Scales were used to evaluate psychiatric symptoms severity before and following treatment, while the data on adverse events and drug-drug interactions were retrieved from the computerized medical records. Results: Thirty-two children and adolescents with cancer, 2-21 years of age (mean 14.1 ± 4.6 years), were treated with antidepressants. Fourteen patients (44%) received mirtazapine, whereas 18 patients (56%) received SSRIs: sertraline (25%), escitalopram (25%), or fluoxetine (6%). Treatment choice was dictated either by physician preference or informed by potential drug-drug interactions. The most common psychiatric diagnoses were major depressive disorders (47%), anxiety disorders (19%), and medication-induced psychiatric disorders (19%). The most common psychiatric-medical symptoms were depressed mood (94%) and anxiety (62%). CGI-S improved significantly (p < 0.05) between pretreatment and on-treatment assessments, with no statistically significant difference between SSRI and mirtazapine-treated patients. CGI-I scores at reassessment indicated improvement in most patients (84%). Adverse events of treatment were mild in all patients. Conclusions: The antidepressants used in this study, SSRIs and mirtazapine, were effective and well tolerated in children and adolescents with cancer and psychiatric comorbidities. Given the high rates of depression and anxiety in children with cancer, large-scale, multisite, prospective clinical trials of antidepressants are warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-161
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2022, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers 2022.


  • SSRIs
  • antidepressants
  • liaison
  • mirtazapine
  • psycho-oncology


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