Breast cancer

04 March 2013

1 in 4 breast cancer diagnoses may spur PTSD

Women who are younger, black or Asian at highest risk for short-term symptoms of stress disorder.

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Nearly one in four breast cancer patients has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder shortly after they receive their cancer diagnosis, and the risk is highest in black and Asian patients, a new study reveals.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur when a person has experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event.

Researchers interviewed more than 1 100 breast cancer patients over the age of 20 and found that 23% of them had PTSD symptoms during the first two to three months after diagnosis. However, those symptoms declined over the next three months.

Younger women were more likely than older women to have PTSD symptoms, and Asian and black women had a more than 50% higher risk than white women, according to the researchers at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

Early prevention

"This study is one of the first to evaluate the course of PTSD after a diagnosis of breast cancer," lead author Dr Alfred Neugut, a professor of cancer research and a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons and Mailman School of Public Health, said in a Columbia University Medical Center news release.

"The ultimate outcome of this research is to find ways to improve the quality of patients' lives," said Neugut, who is also an oncologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia.

"If we can identify potential risk factors for PTSD, when women are diagnosed with breast cancer, we could provide early prevention and intervention to minimise PTSD symptoms. This approach might also have an indirect impact on the observed racial disparity in breast cancer survival," he explained.

The study findings may also apply to patients with other types of cancer, the researchers said. They noted that PTSD symptoms have been reported in patients diagnosed with prostate cancer and lymphoma.

More information

Breastcancer.org has more about breast cancer and PTSD.

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Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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