For a long time physicians have not considered the impact a serious diagnosis of cancer has on the patient. We know it is a shocking and emotionally harrowing experience, I for one, never considered that it could actually cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in over 50 per cent of the women experiencing breast cancer.
More than 45,000 women in England develop breast cancer every year, and one in three of them will go on to die from the disease. In the US over 100,000 cases are diagnosed. According to the National Cancer Institute in 2009, there were almost 195,000 new cases of breast cancer (192,370 women, 1,910 men and 40,170 deaths).
It is more often associated with soldiers returning from battlefields who have been shell-shocked by their experiences. The debilitating disorder is often characterized by agitation, anxiety, depression, nightmares, flashbacks, and mood swings.
But now doctors have found that a similar effect can be found in women when told that they have breast cancer.
The researchers that conducted the research theorize that many factors could trigger the development of PTSD.
These include the psychological and emotional impact of a frightening diagnosis such as breast cancer combined with the stress of treatment, including surgery or chemotherapy, and the disease’s unexpected impact on a patient’s life, such as patients having to give up work.
The researchers determined that women in remission (cancer free), can still have symptoms of the disorder. Their study looked at the effects of the PTSD on 331 Greek women treated for breast cancer. They found that 45 per cent of the patients exhibited signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Also the women reported that they were suffering from the symptoms, experienced a poorer quality of life, three years after their diagnosis and treatment.
The researchers, from the Pantheon University of Athens, urge doctors to look for the signs of the condition while treating patients with breast cancer.
They acknowledged: “Knowing that breast cancer patients are susceptible to PTSD, it might be necessary for the field of medicine to create a plan in assisting cancer patients that takes into account the entire spectrum of a patient’s experience with the illness.”
In 2009, physicians reported that having a heart attack could also trigger symptoms of PTSD.
Approximately one in six patients, 16 per cent, met the criteria for the condition, while another 18 per cent suffered some symptoms of the disorder.