Increasing Awareness of Cancer-Related PTSD


Cancer-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could affect as many as 30% to 60% of patients with cancer.

Researchers from Stanford University conducted a qualitative literature review of the prevalence, predictors, and correlates of cancer-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and diagnoses. Cancer-related PTSD has been documented in people with cancer; studies have found rates of traumatization and stress symptoms in 37% to 60% of cancer survivors.

PTSD is not routinely screened for in clinical practice, however, and the literature on treating cancer-related PTSD is sparse. Compounding the situation was the absence of cancer-related PTSD in DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria; however, the revised DSM-5 PTSD criteria now include the assessment of cancer-related distress.

Cancer-related PTSD is associated with other indices of distress and reduced quality of life, and has several correlates and risk factors (eg, prior trauma history, preexisting psychiatric conditions, and lack of social support).

Psychosocial assessment of people with cancer should include a thorough evaluation of pre-cancer diagnosis trauma and a psychiatric history. Diagnostic interviewing should consider concurrent conditions, such as an adjustment disorder. The researchers concluded that treatment of cancer-related PTSD should be approached with caution and be informed by existing evidence-based approaches for treating traumatic stress. The study findings are available here.

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