Receiving a diagnosis of cancer is a common fear, often considered a worst-case-scenario when a patient goes to the doctor for a check-up. Despite the improvement in care strategies in recent decades, patients are still fearful of undergoing treatments and the uncertainty of the outcome when cancer is diagnosed.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center finds that nearly a quarter of women diagnosed experience significant trauma when receiving a diagnosis for breast cancer.
The symptoms experienced as a result of the trauma are consistent with those used to identify post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The symptoms can be widely varied, but many cases of PTSD include insomnia, flashbacks and the presence of anxiety or depression.
The study provides an attempt to measure the occurrence of PTSD following a breast cancer diagnosis. It was based on the interviews of over 1,100 women, according to Alfred I. Neugut, M.D., PhD. The findings show that 23 percent of women who have recently received a diagnosis of breast cancer report symptoms that meet the criteria for PTSD.
The researchers found that, particularly when the patient was interviewed soon after receiving the diagnosis, the symptoms for PTSD were especially prevalent. In the initial two months to three months following a diagnosis, nearly one-quarter met criteria PTSD criteria. The symptoms decreased in subsequent months.
Age seemed to impact the likelihood that PTSD would occur. Women who were younger were more probable to develop PTSD symptoms. Race and ethnicity also played a role, with black and Asian women at a 50 percent higher risk when compared with white women.
The study involved 1,139 participants and included women 20 years old and over who had recently received a diagnosis of breast cancer. All of the cases were stages I through III.
The study included three interviews over the phone to each patient. The initial survey took place within two to three months of diagnosis and previous to the third cycle of chemotherapy, if the chemotherapy was being used to treat the patient. The second of the interviews took place four months following the diagnosis then the third interview was administered six months following diagnosis.
The authors hope that by identifying patients who experience symptoms of PTSD at an early stage, it can be addressed and treated to minimize the ongoing effects of the mental disorder. Addressing the PTSD symptoms may also have some impact on other racial differences in patients with breast cancer, such as survival rates.