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PTSD in Cancer Patients

Grappling with PTSD after a cancer diagnosis

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is no longer a term only familiar to health care professionals; it has become a fixture in popular culture. Sadly, the disorder has been sensationalized frequently for dramatic effect and the term continues to be over- and incorrectly used. There is still much to be learned about PTSD—especially among cancer patients.

In a recent study, researchers aimed to assess the predictors and course of PTSD in adult patients with cancer. Published in Cancer, the study was unique in several ways. It was the first cohort in the South-East Asia region, patients were evaluated using gold-standard clinical interviews and the patient population was followed for an extended period – 4 years.

The study authors consecutively recruited 469 adult patients within one month of their cancer diagnoses. Patients with significant psychological distress were evaluated for PTSD at the 6-month follow-up, and all participants were evaluated at the 4-year follow-up. While rates of PTSD dropped over 4 years (21.7% to 6.1%), one-third of patients with an initial diagnosis of full or subsyndromal PTSD had persistent or worsening symptoms. The authors note that their study “. . .highlights a need to monitor PTSD among long-term cancer survivors, especially because many of the symptoms of PTSD, avoidance and cognitive difficulties (as well as psychological distress), are enduring, which may potentially impact adherence to treatment.”

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