Emotional and treatment challenges lead to PTSD in cancer patients

Emotional and treatment challenges lead to PTSD in cancer patients

In 2017, a team of researchers through a scientific paper published in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians forecasted 1,688,780 new cancer cases and 600,920 cancer deaths in the United States. The above figures highlight the magnitude of the chronic disease like cancer. Overall, this estimate of new cancer cases is equivalent to over 4,600 new cases of cancer diagnosed each day.

Besides being a life-threatening disease that instills the overwhelming feeling of loss and loneliness, it is a journey full of uncertainties and painful treatment approaches. Therefore, it is common for patients to feel shock, fear, helplessness and/or horror. At the end, it is not easy being a cancer patient.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. and a major public health concern worldwide. The factor that makes it worse is the absence of support services to take care of the emotional pain witnessed right from diagnosis to treatment and aftercare. Since the health care industry is ill-equipped in helping patients deal with their mental trauma, it can undermine their recovery process to a great extent. As psychological well-being is as important as physical well-being to improve quality of life, there is a need to focus on the repercussions of any disease on a person’s psyche.

PTSD in cancer patients

As the world has not yet learned to give emphasis to mental health, many cancer patients develop the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, they may continue to live with this condition even after the successful cancer treatment, as suggested by a four-year study conducted by Caryn Mei Hsien Chan, PhD, National University of Malaysia.  In some patients, the PTSD symptoms could worsen with time.

PTSD is a psychological condition caused due to a traumatic experience. The condition could turn debilitating for many by resulting in social isolation and negative coping strategies, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and loss of relationships and employment. The condition could occur anytime during or after treatment. The study was conducted on 469 patients at one cancer referral center in Malaysia. The researchers subjected the patients to psychological evaluations at various intervals after the diagnosis of cancer. Unfortunately, around 210 patients succumbed to cancer during the study period.

After six months of the diagnosis of cancer, nearly 22 percent had developed PTSD. Around four years later, more than 6 percent still experienced the symptoms of psychological distress and cognitive problems. Although PTSD symptoms decreased with time, they worsened in roughly one-third of patients.

Due to the institution of a dedicated program for breast cancer that provides support and counseling to patients in the first year of cancer diagnosis, the study found that breast cancer patients were 3.7 times less likely to develop PTSD symptoms compared with those suffering from other types of cancer at six months. However, similar outcomes were not witnessed at the end of four years.

This indicates the importance of counseling in reducing the severity of PTSD. Therefore, researchers suggest that patients should be screened for PTSD during the early phase of the disease and provided adequate support and treatment for the same. Many cancer patients are unwilling to acknowledge their emotional issues due to the misconception that they need to have a “warrior mentality” to beat the disease.

Treating underlying mental issues increases chances of recovery

Anxiety and fear are experienced by every cancer patient due to the constant worry about the recurrence or exacerbation of the symptoms. However, not every case maybe a full-blown PTSD, the above-mentioned study underscores the importance of implementing a multidisciplinary treatment approach for cancer. It should involve a mental health professional who can accurately evaluate and help patients in managing their psychological problems caused by this disease. PTSD in cancer patients could lead them to avoid treatment altogether. They are more liable to skip visits to their oncologists or other physicians to avoid painful experiences and memories.

If you or your loved one is suffering from any mental disorder, contact the Texas Mental Health Recovery Helpline to access the best mental health treatment centers in Texas that specialize in evidence-based intervention plans. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-596-4708 or chat online to know more about mental health disorders treatment in Texas.

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