Cancer patients and suvivors can experience symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder similar to that experienced by military veterans, a new study reports.
Resaerchers at the Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, North Carolina have found that many cancer survivors suffer from persisting symptoms of PTSD even a decade following their diagnosis. The symptoms include jumpiness, having disturbing thoughts about their cancer and treatment and experiencing emotional numbness towards close friends and family members.
The study examined survey data obtained by 566 patients or survivors of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a relatively common form of cancer. All of the patients in the study had been surveyed once previously. In the first study, it was found that one in tweleve patients experienced PTSD. The current study found that the PTSD symptoms only seemed to get worse over time.
“It’s just very stressful for people to be told that they have cancer,” said Bonnie Green of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. “You can’t just assume that they feel bad now, but it will go away.”
The psychological toll brought on by a cancer diagnosis may also have an effect on the overall health of the patient.
“You worry if the patient is avoiding medical care, you worry they might not be getting follow-ups,” said researcher Sophia Smith. “We don’t have data to support that, but we worry about it.”
Although nearly have the patients in the study experienced no symptoms of PTSD, the results did show that 37% of patients experienced worse symptoms over time. In particular, patients with low incomes seemed to be the most heavily affected, making PTSD a larger concern if a patient has fewer resources with regards to both medical care and mental health.
Depression is an even more common symptom of cancer diagnosis, even if it doesn’t develop into full-blown PTSD.
Researchers say that the best treatment for patients with PTSD is talk therapy, the effectiveness of which has been shown in several studies.
Though the study only covered NHL patients, it raises questions and concerns about the mental health of cancer patients of all types. Patients with mesothelioma cancer, which is so aggressive that the median survival rate is only one year within diagnosis, may experience similar PTSD symptoms. They may even be exacerbated by the severity of the disease and the urgency of treatment. Military veterans who became sick following asbestos exposure may be at a higher risk for cancer-related PTSD if they are already experiencing PTSD following their military service, or a cancer diagnosis may intensify the flashbacks, avoidance and depression associated with the disorder. Talk therapy is a viable option to consider for any cancer diagnosis, as it may allow patients to effectively cope with their condition before PTSD symptoms are even identified.