Risk Factors for PTSD in People With Cancer

Risk Factors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Cancer

As many as one-third of people who experience an extremely upsetting event, including cancer, develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The event alone, however, does not explain why some people get PTSD and others do not. Although there is no clear answer as to which cancer survivors are at increased risk of developing PTSD, certain mental, physical, or social factors may make some people more likely to experience it.
Individual and Social Factors
Individual and social factors that have been associated with a higher incidence of PTSD include:
  • Younger age
  • Fewer years of formal education
  • Lower income.
Disease-Related Factors
Certain disease-related factors are also associated with PTSD, such as:
  • In patients who received a bone marrow transplant, PTSD occurs more often when there is advanced disease and a longer hospital stay
  • In adult survivors of bone cancer and Hodgkin's lymphoma, people for whom more time has passed since diagnosis and treatment tended to show fewer symptoms of PTSD
  • In survivors of childhood cancer, symptoms of PTSD occur more often when there was a longer treatment time
  • Interfering thoughts occur more often in patients who experienced pain and other physical symptoms
  • Cancer that has returned has been shown to increase stress symptoms in patients.
Mental Factors
Mental factors may also affect the development of PTSD in some patients. Examples of mental factors include:
  • Previous trauma
  • Previous psychological problems
  • High levels of general stress
  • Genetic factors and biological factors (such as a hormone disorder) that affect memory and learning
  • The amount of social support available
  • Threat to life and body
  • Having PTSD before being diagnosed with cancer
  • The use of avoidance to cope with stress.
Protective Factors
Certain factors may decrease a person's chances of developing PTSD. These include:
  • Increased social support
  • Accurate information about the stage of the cancer
  • A satisfactory relationship with the medical staff.
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