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Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Triggered By Cancer Treatment?

By Elaine R. Ferguson, MD

“You have cancer,” is probably the most frightening three words any human being can hear. While focusing on treating the disease, physicians have never considered the impact the diagnosis or treatment of cancer has on the psychological well being of their patients. 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.

A recent study is a wake up call to action regarding how cancer patients’ communication and treatment experiences need to be altered to minimize the risk of developing this serious disorder.

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 Nactional 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 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 as surgery or chemotherapy, and the diseases’ 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 Panteion University of Athens, urge doctors to look for he 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.

Want to find out more about emotions and health, then visit Elaine R. Ferguson, MD’s site and receive the best holistic health information for your needs.

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
MD, Elaine R. F. "Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Triggered By Cancer Treatment?." Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Triggered By Cancer Treatment?. 22 Jun. 2010. 3 Aug 2014 <>.

APA Style Citation:
MD, E (2010, June 22). Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Triggered By Cancer Treatment?. Retrieved August 3, 2014, from

Chicago Style Citation:
MD, Elaine R. F. "Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Triggered By Cancer Treatment?"

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