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20% of cancer patients 'experienced PTSD after diagnosis'

That’s according to a new study published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Image: Shutterstock/Sasa Prudkov

A NEW STUDY shows that approximately one-fifth of patients with cancer experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) several months after diagnosis.

It also found that many of these patients continued to live with PTSD years later.

The study is published in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, and the researchers say the findings highlight the need for early identification, careful monitoring, and treatment of PTSD in cancer survivors.

PTSD is primarily known to develop in individuals following a traumatic event such as a serious accident or natural disaster, but it can also occur in patients diagnosed with cancer.

But because PTSD in cancer has not been explored thoroughly, Caryn Mei Hsien Chan, PhD, of the National University of Malaysia, and her colleagues studied 469 adults with various cancer types within one month of diagnosis at a single oncology referral center.

These patients underwent additional testing after six months and again after four years.

The clinical evaluations revealed a PTSD incidence of 21.7% at six-months follow-up, with rates dropping to 6.1% at four-years follow-up.

Although overall rates of PTSD decreased with time, roughly one-third of patients initially diagnosed with PTSD were found to have persistent or worsening symptoms four years later.

The study also found that, compared with patients with other cancer types, patients with breast cancer were 3.7 times less likely to develop PTSD at six months, but not at four years.

They said this may be because, at the referral center studied, there is a dedicated programme that provides support and counselling, focusing mostly on breast cancer patients within the first year of cancer diagnosis.

Dr Chan said: “We need psychological evaluation and support services for patients with cancer at an initial stage and at continued follows-up because psychological well-being and mental health–and by extension, quality of life–are just as important as physical health.”

The doctor also said that many cancer patients “believe they need to adopt a ‘warrior mentality’, and remain positive and optimistic from diagnosis through treatment to stand a better chance of beating their cancer”.

“To these patients, seeking help for the emotional issues they face is akin to admitting weakness,” she said. “There needs to be greater awareness that there is nothing wrong with getting help to manage the emotional upheaval–particularly depression, anxiety, and PTSD–post-cancer.”

She also stressed that many patients live in fear that their cancer may come back, and they may think the cancer has returned with every lump or bump, pain or ache, fatigue or fever.

In addition, survivors might skip visits to their oncologists or other physicians to avoid triggering memories of their past cancer experience – and this can lead to delays in seeking help for new symptoms or even refusal of treatment for unrelated conditions.

Read: ‘We are facing into a cancer epidemic’: More people are surviving, but diagnoses continue to rise>

Read: Cancer: ‘My Big C news had no Ali McGraw or Marcus Welby MD moment of discovery’>

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