Cancer survivors often living with PTSD: Malaysian study

A cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy sessions.
The Straits Times

Cancer patients may often experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the months after their tumors are diagnosed, and mental health issues can sometimes linger for years, a Malaysian study suggests.

Six months after diagnosis, 22 percent of cancer patients reported symptoms of PTSD in clinical evaluations, researchers report in Cancer. After four years, about 6 percent of patients had PTSD.

Although overall rates of PTSD decreased over time, one-third of patients initially diagnosed with the mental health disorder had persistent or worsening symptoms four years later.

“PTSD can affect anyone who has witnessed or experienced a serious threat of violence or death,” said lead study author Caryn Mei Hsien Chan of the National University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

“While PTSD is more often associated with traumatic events such as violent physical and sexual attacks, serious accidents and natural disasters, this includes being diagnosed with cancer, the experience of undergoing cancer treatment and surviving cancer,” Chan said by email.

“Even if they do not have full-blown PTSD most cancer patients experience some symptoms of it.”

For the study, researchers followed 469 patients at one cancer center in Malaysia who had psychological evaluations at various points after their diagnosis. A total of 210 patients died during the four-year study.

Six months after their cancer diagnosis, 27 of 203 patients, or 13.3 percent, met the full criteria for newly developed PTSD, and another 17 people, or 8.4 percent, had several symptoms of PTSD.