Living with cancer blog

Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect cancer survivors

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. February 4, 2012

In a previous discussion, we talked about fear of recurrence and the anxiety associated with being a survivor of cancer. Research has shown that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur with cancer survivors — especially since you're dealing with a life-threatening medical diagnosis.

This is particularly true of childhood cancer survivors, survivors of aggressive cancers and cancers that require intense treatments.

Some of the symptoms and emotions of PTSD include:

  • Problems sleeping because of intrusive dreams or flashbacks of trauma
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Avoiding activities you once enjoyed
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Irritability and anger
  • Self-destructive behaviors, such as drinking too much or taking unusual risks
  • Uncontrolled sadness and crying spells
  • Hearing or seeing things that are not there

It's normal to have some of these symptoms as a cancer survivor. However, if you're having disturbing thoughts and feelings for more than a month, if they're severe, or if you feel you're having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your health care professional. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse.

Some types of therapy used in PTSD treatment include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy — this helps you recognize the ways of thinking that are causing the anxiety and symptoms. Recommendations for strategies to help modify these thoughts are part of this therapy.
  • Psychotherapy — this may include group discussions or individual counseling to work through the symptoms and emotions. It can also be very helpful to talk to others who are going through similar experiences.
  • Medications — (anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, or anti-anxiety) — this is usually a short-term strategy to deal with extreme depression or anxiety.

Treatment for PTSD can help you regain a sense of control over your life. With successful treatment, you can also feel better about yourself and learn ways to cope if any symptoms return. These strategies can help improve your symptoms and teach you skills to cope better with the traumatic event — and move beyond it.

What's been your experience? Share your thoughts on this topic.

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With

Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Follow on Twitter: @SherylNess1

41 Comments Posted

Feb. 04, 2012