Cancer patients with a history of depression and anxiety disorders are at a much higher risk of experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following diagnosis. Professor Barbara Anderson, a psychologist and the study author, examined the profiles of 74 breast cancer patients and found 12 (16 percent) suffered PTSD 18 months after diagnosis. A further 15 (20 percent) experienced severe symptoms, referred to as subsyndromal symptoms, but not sufficient to be diagnosed.
Some of the features of PTSD include intrusive memories in which the trauma is revisited through flashbacks or nightmares. The person frequently ruminates and feels intense emotions and sensations. People with PTSD often describe their images as feeling like they are inside a movie. Mental defence mechanisms are also adopted in which the person seems unable to recall certain memories or features of the trauma they have experienced. Irritability, vigilance, poor concentration and broken sleep patterns are additional symptoms.
The women with subsyndromal PTSD were also more likely to have had a background of mood disorders, but less likely to have experiences anxiety disorders. Around a third of the women with PTSD also had a history of alcohol and substance misuse. Half the women with PTSD also reported having been physically attacked or abused at some point in their lives.
Women in the subsyndromal group generally did better in terms of their overall outcome but both groups experienced coping difficulties. Women from both groups were four times more likely to say they were unable to work.
Anderson points out that most cancer patients are not at risk from PTSD but those with a history of depression need the most attention. "What is unique about breast cancer patients with PTSD is that they have already had this double hit of both anxiety and mood disorders even before they get the diagnosis," said Anderson.
Professor Anderson and her colleagues are now working to develop an intervention to treat cancer patients with depression. In order to try and avoid PTSD, Anderson suggests that doctors should screen newly diagnosed breast cancer patients for past mood disorders.
Ohio State University (2008, May 6). Anxiety, Mood Disorders Put Cancer Patients At Risk For PTSD. Science Daily. Retrieved May 7, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080505162801.htm