Many cancer survivors struggle with trauma stress: study

Wed Oct 12, 2011 10:39pm EDT
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(Reuters) - A cancer diagnosis can leave lasting psychological scars akin to those inflicted by war, with the impact in some cases lasting for years, U.S. researchers found in a study.

More than a decade after being told they had the disease, nearly four out of 10 cancer survivors said they were still plagued by symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, said lead researcher Sophia Smith from the Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, North Carolina.

Those symptoms included being extra jumpy, having disturbing thoughts about the cancer and its treatment, or feeling emotionally numb toward friends and family.

One in 10 patients also said they avoided thinking about their cancer and one in 20 said they steered clear of situations or activities that reminded them of the disease, a situation that could potentially become a medical problem.

"You worry if the patient is avoiding medical care, you worry they might not be getting follow-ups," Smith told Reuters Health.

"We don't have data to support that, but we worry about it."

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, is based on a survey of 566 patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a relatively common kind of cancer.

Smith's team had surveyed these patients for PTSD symptoms once before, estimating that about one in 12 had full-blown PTSD. The diagnosis involved a trio of symptoms, including avoidance, arousal and flashbacks.

Many more had one or more PTSD symptoms, however. The newest survey also showed they often persist.   Continued...