Cancer Patients Can Have PTSD

Cancer Patients Can Have PTSD

It seems we always associate Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with our military. But did you know that 1/3 or more cancer patients experience it too? Yes, freight, strain, heartache, anger, grief, and many other emotions can manifest in the cancer patient’s life. This can often bring about PTSD.

For many years I wondered why so many of our past cancer patients refused to shout to the world their marvelous remission. Even after being in remission for years, some people have been afraid to speak of their ordeals. Many times we would ask patients to speak with newly diagnosed patients in order to help give them a sense of hope. Sometimes the past patient is afraid to talk about it because if they talk it, they feel the cancer may return. A lot of times past cancer patients are afraid the cancer has come back at the slightest headache or pain. They live their lives in fear.  

The Journal of Clinical Oncology reported on a long-term study conducted by researchers at the Duke Cancer Institute. The study concluded that more than one-third Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) cancer survivors experienced PTSD. Surveys were mailed to 682 NHL survivors who were at least seven years post diagnosis. A total of 566 individuals participated. Half or 51% of the participates reported no PTSD symptoms and 12% reported they had experienced PTSD but the symptoms resolved. Thirty seven (37) percent reported persistence or worsening symptoms even after 5 years. Some individuals reported that the symptoms got worse as the years passed.

It is a fact that a serious diagnosis and events to follow can be very stressful if not devastating. This study has helped me to understand and realize another aspect of what our patients go through. We as family members, friends, doctors, need to consider what cancer patients are going through within their minds. They do not always tell us their true feelings.

I encourage all doctors to remember that PTSD is real even for cancer patients. Remember that it could be you in their shoes so please speak with kindness and compassion.

-Dr Fredda Branyon

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