HEALTHY LIVING
10/15/2011 02:21 pm ET | Updated Dec 15, 2011

1/3 Of Cancer Survivors Experience PTSD, Study Suggests

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could develop after surviving cancer, a new study suggests.

Research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology shows that a third of survivors of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma still experience PTSD symptoms long after they were first diagnosed with the disease. In fact, the PTSD seemed to get worse as the years passed.

"It's just very stressful for people to be told that they have cancer," Bonnie Green, a Georgetown University trauma expert who wasn't involved with the study, told Reuters. "You can't just assume that they feel bad now, but it will go away."

The study, conducted by Duke Cancer Institute researchers, involved 566 patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. These people had been surveyed before, and researchers had previously deduced that about 1 in 12 of them had PTSD. In the new analysis, researchers followed up a median of 12.9 years after their initial diagnosis.

Researchers found that half of the people didn't have any symptoms of PTSD 13 years post-diagnosis, and that 12 percent of people who did have it had their PTSD symptoms disappear. But 37 percent of the people reported that their PTSD symptoms have stayed or even gotten worse after a 5-year period.

PTSD symptoms were greater in people who had lower incomes, were diagnosed when their cancer had already entered into stage 2 or higher, underwent chemotherapy and had an aggressive form of lymphoma, HealthDay reported.

PTSD is defined by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress as "avoiding situations related to the trauma, continuously thinking of the trauma, and being overexcited." Cancer survivors with PTSD may relive their cancer in nightmares, or may avoid places or people that remind them of their cancer.

The AAETS says:

People with histories of cancer are considered to be at risk for PTSD. The physical and mental shock of having a life-threatening disease, of receiving treatment for cancer, and living with repeated threats to one's body and life are traumatic experiences for many cancer patients.

However, having a good social support system and a good relationship with the medical staff could help to reduce the risk of developing PTSD from cancer, the AAETS reports.