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One in five cancer patients suffers post-traumatic stress

A fifth of cancer patients experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following treatment, say researchers who urge patients with a warrior mentality to be open to seeking help for emotional upheaval

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A fifth of cancer patients experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) up to six months following treatment, a study suggests.

Researchers in Malaysia also found that a third of those who experienced PTSD were still exhibiting symptoms – or in some cases seeing them worsen – four years after diagnosis.

The study involved 469 patients aged over 18 who had been diagnosed with various types of cancer one month before.

All completed a written test for PTSD after six months and then again four years after diagnosis.

At six months, 21% had PTSD, which fell to 6% four years on.

Protective factors

Patients with breast cancer were more than three times less likely to develop PTSD at six-months compared with other types of cancer, but not at the four-year follow-up.

Lead author Caryn Mei Hsien Chan wrote: ‘Because breast cancer is a very common malignancy, it is possible that greater societal understanding and the wider availability of support programmes tailored for breast cancer initially serve as protective factors against PTSD.’

She added: ‘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.

‘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.’

Chan C et al (2017) Course and Predictors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in a Cohort of Psychologically Distressed Patients With Cancer: A Four-Year Follow-Up Study. Cancer. doi: 10.1002/cncr.30980


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