Often, when we think or hear about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) it's in reference to someone in the military. Dr. Owen Hunt on Grey's Anatomy, for example, suffers from PTSD after coming back from duty as a military doctor in Iraq.
But PTSD isn't just something that affects people who experienced war — it can happen to someone who's had any kind of trauma. In fact, a 2016 study from Drexel University found that the number of civilians who suffer from PTSD is roughly 13 times higher than the number of military personal who also have the disorder.
And new research adds cancer survivors to that list.
A study out of Malaysia for which researchers followed up with 245 cancer patients for four years after their initial diagnosis found that about one fifth of the study participants had PTSD, and about one third of them continued to exhibit symptoms of the disorder years after being diagnosed.
The researchers interviewed patients (they originally started with 469, but ended up with 245 after deaths and people who dropped out) six months after they were first diagnosed, then again one year later, and again after four years. After six months 21% had PTSD, which fell to 6% after four years.
"Many cancer patients believe they need to adopt a 'warrior mentality', and remain positive and optimistic from diagnosis through treatment to stand a better chance of beating their cancer," Caryn Mei Hsien Chan, the study's lead author, told BBC. She claims that this mentality can keep patients from getting help for their PTSD, because admitting that they're suffering would be like admitting weakness.
Yet, it's not too outrageous to believe that cancer survivors would have PTSD since, again, any kind of trauma can trigger the disorder. Many people who have survived cancer live in fear that they'll be diagnosed again, Chan told BBC. She and other experts believe that there needs to be more support for cancer survivors, even after they've finished treatment and gone into remission.
"While a common perception is that people should feel 'lucky' to have survived cancer, we often hear from people who felt that the support they received 'dropped away' when their treatment ended. The health and care system has a long way to go in terms of supporting people after cancer treatment," Dany Bell, who works for Macmillan Cancer Support in the UK, told BBC.
Overall, we need to stop thinking of PTSD as a veteran's disorder, and start helping people recognize that trauma like a cancer diagnosis, sexual assault, natural disaster, or car accident can also trigger symptoms. So that people can recognize the signs, and get the help they need.
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