Benefits of light therapy include both decreasing depressive symptoms and normalizing circadian rhythms in cancer survivors, according to research presented at the American Psychosomatic Society 2016 Annual Meeting.

Clinical depression is common in people with cancer, affecting 1 in 4, according to the American Cancer Society.

An international team of researchers randomized 54 cancer survivors into 2 groups. One group was treated with bright white light and the other group with dim red light. Participants were provided with a light box and instructed to use it for 30 minutes every morning for 4 weeks. Effectiveness of the light therapy was assessed with Brief Symptom Inventory for depressive symptoms and actigraphs of circadian activity rhythms at baseline, 2 weeks into the intervention, at the end of the 4-week intervention, and 3 weeks after the completion of the intervention.

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“Depressive symptoms are common among cancer survivors even years after treatment has ended,” said Heiddis Valdimarsdottir, PhD, associate professor of Oncological Sciences, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, New York, and lead author of the study. “This interferes with overall quality of life and puts survivors at risk for poor outcomes including death.”

Depressive symptoms improved in the patients who were exposed to the bright light, whereas symptoms were unchanged in those exposed to the dim red light.

“Our findings suggest light therapy, a rather noninvasive therapy, may provide an innovative way to decrease depression among cancer survivors,” said William Redd, PhD, professor of Oncological Sciences at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and a coauthor of the study.2

“The good news is that depression can be treated, and bright light therapy is a potentially effective new treatment option,” said Valdimarsdottir.


1. Valdimarsdottir HB, Wu LM, Ludgendorf S, et al. Systematic light exposure improves depression among cancer survivors. Poster presented at: American Psychosomatic Society 74th Annual Meeting; March 9-12, 2016; Denver, Colorado. Abstract 1586.

2. Light exposure improves depressive symptoms among cancer survivors [news release]. EurekAlert! Web site. Published March 10, 2016. Accessed March 29, 2016.