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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder. Some people develop PTSD after experiencing a frightening or life-threatening situation. PTSD is most often referred to in situations such as living through war, a sexual or physical attack, abuse, or a serious accident. Cancer and cancer treatment can also cause PTSD. For example, one study shows that nearly 1 in 4 women who had recently been told they had breast cancer had PTSD.
Signs of PTSD include feelings of anxiety that do not go away, keep getting worse, and may affect your daily life.
Other signs of PTSD include:
You may also have frightening or unwanted thoughts. Or you may have difficulty feeling any emotions at all.
PTSD can happen after you go through an event or see an event that is traumatic. Often, this is a life-threatening event, but not always. You may develop PTSD from cancer for several reasons. These include:
It is not clear why some people develop PTSD while others do not. Certain factors may make you more likely to experience it. Learning you have cancer at a young age is one factor. One study found that survivors of childhood cancer were at greater risk of developing PTSD. People who had longer, more intense treatment were especially at risk. Another study found that almost 1 in 5 babies and preschoolers with cancer have PTSD.
PTSD from cancer also seems to be more common in:
PTSD is less likely if you:
Yes, PTSD can also affect caregivers. Learning that a loved one has cancer, seeing them in pain, and going through a medical emergency can cause trauma. A caregiver may develop PTSD during the treatment period. Or they may develop it afterwards, even years later.
One study found that almost 1 in 5 families with teenage cancer survivors had a parent with PTSD. Research also shows that parents of children receiving cancer treatment often develop stress-related symptoms.
PTSD is different for each person, and symptoms can come and go. You usually develop symptoms within 3 months of a traumatic event. But they can also occur several months or even years later. Talk with a member of your health care team if you have any of the symptoms above for more than a month.
If you are experiencing PTSD and you have cancer or are a cancer survivor, you should seek treatment for your PTSD symptoms. This is important because some people with PTSD may avoid the tests, treatments, and survivorship care they need. It can also raise your risk of other problems. These can include depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and eating disorders. PTSD can also affect your relationships and work.
Treatments depend on your specific symptoms and situation. Common treatments are listed here and are often combined.
Psychotherapy. This means talking with a mental health professional, like a counselor, who has experience treating PTSD. Some counselors specialize in helping people with cancer or cancer survivors. You may talk with a counselor by yourself or in a group. In the United States, some health insurance companies pay for treatment; check with your health insurance company for more information. Read more about the benefits of counseling.
Medication. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can help manage such PTSD symptoms as sadness, anxiety, and anger. You may be prescribed medication in addition to counseling.
Support groups. Support groups can help you cope with the emotional stress of cancer. Your group can be a safe place to share experiences and learn from others. Research shows that support groups can help you feel less depressed and anxious and become more hopeful. Learn more about support groups.
Talk with your health care team about help for PTSD. They can help you find support services, including counseling and support groups in your community. Here are some other tips for finding help:
This information was originally published at https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/managing-emotions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-and-cancer.
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