PTSD And Breast Cancer: Psychological Trauma Twice As Likely In Newly Diagnosed Black Women

Mar 04, 2013 | Updated Mar 04, 2013

Though it's been largely associated with traumatic events, such as war, terrorist attacks and even natural disasters, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also occur among women who've been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, researchers from the NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center have found.

In their study, which surveyed more than 1,000 women with stage I to stage III breast cancer, nearly 1 in 4 (or 23 percent) of those who had been newly diagnosed reported symptoms consistent with PTSD. According to the National Institutes of Health symptoms of PTSD are categorize in three ways -- reliving, or experiencing uncomfortable reactions to situations that remind you of the event; avoidance, or emotional numbing; and arousal, often accompanied by difficulty concentrating and having trouble falling or staying asleep.

What's more, of the women surveyed, symptoms of PTSD were more likely to occur among black and Asians, the researchers say, possibly explaining why certain breast cancer disparities persist.

"During the first two to three months after diagnosis, nearly a quarter of them met the criteria for PTSD, although the symptoms declined over the next three months. Younger women were more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD, and data suggest Asian and black women are at a more than 50 percent higher risk than white women," said the study's lead author Alfred I. Neugut, MD. “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. This approach might also have an indirect impact on the observed racial disparity in breast cancer survival," he went on to say.

Distinctions continue to unfold as to how breast cancer treatment and prevention methods vary across racial lines.

Last month, a study from the Slone Epidemiology Center (SEC) at Boston University revealed that a long-standing model used to predict breast cancer risk among African-American women was actually missing the mark. The Gail model or Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, poorly predicted risk for estrogen receptor (ER) negative breast cancer, researchers found. The more aggressive and deadly form of cancer is one that black women are more likely to be diagnosed with.

Similarly, researchers concluded last year that personalizing cancer drug treatment so that it targets the genetic makeup of a particular tumour rather than presuming one therapy can treat multiple, similar-looking tumours may be the best approach.

But breast cancer isn't the only form of the disease that may have a PTSD link. Dr. Neugut noted that in previous research, symptoms of PTSD have been reported following prostate cancer and lymphoma diagnoses, as well.

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