Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect cancer survivors and even caregivers. One study found that 6 months after diagnosis, 1 in 5 cancer survivors experienced symptoms of PSTD, though that number goes down as more time passes after diagnosis and treatment. [1]

Cancer diagnosis and treatment can be a very stressful experience, and this stress can continue into survivorship, especially when living with a constant fear of recurrence.

Visits to the hospital or a doctor’s office for routine follow-up appointments can be a trigger for some PSTD symptoms, but skipping these appointments poses a health risk for survivors. Other signs of PTSD can include: [1] [2]

  • Nightmares and flashbacks about the cancer experience, thinking obsessively about it.
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating, poor sleep patterns.
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.
  • Unwanted or frightening thoughts.
  • Difficulty feeling emotions or feelings of extreme anxiety, fearfulness, helplessness, and irritability.

Cancer is often referred to as a “battle”, and patients may feel they have to adopt a “warrior mentality”, remaining positive and optimistic. Seeking help for emotional issues may be equated to admitting weakness, but there needs to be more awareness of the fact that there is nothing wrong with getting help to manage the emotional side effects that cancer can sometimes have, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. [1]

A diagnosis of PTSD can be made when symptoms persist longer than 30 days. Some of the coping mechanisms which may be discussed in therapy to minimize the impact of PTSD include: [3]

  • Developing problem solving skills.
  • Changing obsessive thoughts and behaviours.
  • Stop avoiding situations.
  • Managing stress.

Many cancer survivors have said they found support groups to be especially helpful, as this provides a chance to meet others who have similar experiences and may also be living with PTSD. Unfortunately, this may not be a possibility for patients affected by a rare cancer. It is always important to seek professional help if your symptoms are interfering with daily life.


[1] https://www.gatewaycr.org/gateway-blog/posts/2018/january/1-in-5-cancer-survivors-live-with-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/

[2] https://www.cancer.net/survivorship/life-after-cancer/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-and-cancer

[3] http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-journey/living-with-cancer/stress/