Another Battle in the War on Breast Cancer

Breast cancer patients reported post traumatic stress disorder symptoms after diagnosis

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A breast cancer diagnosis is no doubt very serious. Some women may feel like they’ve experienced a major traumatic event for the first few months after receiving the news.

In a recent study, a group of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer were interviewed. The researchers found that about one in four women had post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms within six months of diagnosis.

The authors recommended that methods to catch these symptoms early be developed to better provide symptom management for patients as they begin breast cancer treatment.

"Talk to a therapist about coping with cancer."

Alfred I. Neugut, MD, PhD, professor of epidemiology and cancer research at Columbia University’s College of Physicians & Surgeons in New York City and oncologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital, led an investigation into the risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis.

For the study, researchers contacted 1,139 women around two to three months after they were diagnosed with breast cancer. The women were already enrolled in the Breast Cancer Quality of Care Study, which was conducted in New York City, Detroit and Northern California between 2006 and 2010.

Telephone interviews were conducted with the women again at four months and six months after diagnosis.

During the first interview, 23 percent of women reported symptoms of PTSD. In the second interview, 17 percent of women reported PTSD symptoms. By the third interview, 13 percent of women reported PTSD symptoms.

If a woman had PTSD symptoms during two of the interviews, researchers labeled her with “persistent PTSD.” A total of 12 percent of the women had persistent PTSD symptoms.

Among women without PTSD symptoms during the first interview, 7 percent developed PTSD symptoms by the second interview.

Black women were 1.5 times more likely to develop PTSD symptoms than white women. Asian women were 1.7 times more likely to develop PTSD symptoms than white women.

The authors concluded that nearly one in every four women diagnosed with breast cancer had PTSD symptoms within six months of diagnosis. The authors recommended that early identification of PTSD symptoms would provide the best chance to intervene and manage PTSD symptoms in breast cancer patients.

“The ultimate outcome of this research is to find ways to improve the quality of patients’ lives. If we can identify potential risk factors for PTSD, when women are diagnosed with breast cancer, we could provide early prevention and intervention to minimize PTSD symptoms,” said Dr. Neugut.

This study was published in February in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The Department of Defense, the National Cancer Institute, the Breast Cancer Foundation and the Environmental Health Foundation provided financial support for this project. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 6, 2013
Last Updated:
March 8, 2013