For a number of years, investigators have reported stress or trauma related symptoms such as avoidant behaviors, intrusive thoughts, and heightened arousal in survivors of cancer.[1-4] These symptoms resemble those seen in persons who have experienced traumatic events such as military combat, violent personal assault (e.g., rape), natural disasters, or other threats to life and are referred to collectively as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[5-10] Acute stress disorder (ASD) is a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) condition with a profile similar to that of PTSD but a shorter time to onset, within 4 weeks of a traumatic event. Thus the occurrence of post traumatic stress (PTS) with trauma related symptoms in patients with cancer has been under increasing study, influenced by changes in the diagnostic criteria for PTSD in the DSM, fourth edition (DSM-IV). The DSM, third revised edition (DSM-III-R), specifically excluded patients with medical illnesses such as cancer from PTSD. The diagnostic criteria for PTSD in the DSM-IV, text revision (DSM-IV-TR), however, specifically include “being diagnosed with a life threatening illness” as one example of a traumatic event. Thus, people with histories of cancer can now be evaluated and considered at risk for PTS and related symptoms.
For more information on cancer-related post-traumatic stress for the health professional please visit the National Cancer Institute site by clicking here.