Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after Childhood Cancer

Don Vaughan

CURE, Winter 2013, Volume 12, Issue 4

According to the National Cancer Institute, PTSD can affect adult survivors of childhood cancer.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition most commonly associated with military service in a combat zone or survival of some other kind of traumatic event, such as a car accident. However, PTSD can also affect adult survivors of childhood cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

PTSD can affect cancer survivors in a variety of ways. Among them:

> Reliving the time they were diagnosed and treated for cancer via nightmares or flashbacks, or constantly thinking about their cancer experience.

> Avoiding places, events or people that remind them of their cancer experience.

> Being constantly overexcited, fearful, or unable to sleep or concentrate.

Those most at risk of developing PTSD, according to the NCI, are survivors who received radiation therapy to the head when younger than 4 years old or who received other forms of intensive treatment. The condition may be compounded by family problems, little or no social support from family or friends, and stress unrelated to the cancer.

In addition to adversely affecting an individual’s personal life, PTSD can also impact quality of care. For example, affected survivors may not receive the medical treatment they need for late effects because they actively avoid any person or institution that reminds them of their cancer. In such cases, psychotherapy may be necessary to treat the underlying stress and anxiety.