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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Childhood Cancer Sufferers

Post traumatic stress disorder is a terrible debilitating mental condition which can affect anyone from any walk of life.

However a recent study has shown that young adults who were childhood sufferers of cancer are more likely to suffer with the disorder later on in life than their healthy siblings.

This is understandable as they have undergone possibly years of very frightening and unpleasant treatments and experiences with their cancer. Perhaps also not really understanding what was happening to them and why, all adding to their overall fear and uncertainty.

The study revealed that these cancer survivors reported symptoms such as:

  • Increased arousal,
  • Phobias,
  • Startling easily,
  • Avoidance of reminders of their cancer,
  • Being on edge
  • Extreme anxiety.

The study was carried out on people who suffered cancer as children during the years 1970 and 1986. Treatment during this time could sometimes have nasty side effects such as infertility, cognitive impairment or stunted growth which only increased anxiety as they moved into adulthood and began facing life’s challenges such as finding a job.

Interesting, other studies have looked at children who were going through cancer treatments later than that period and it showed a far less percentage who reported symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

This could be because treatments have improved so much and have become far less invasive and traumatic in themselves. Also after care and support has improved, lessening any after effects of the treatments and experience of having cancer at such a young age.

PTSD can be treated effectively using Cognitive behavioral therapy and short term use of medication. So the long term outlook for these young adults is good and they should be able to go on and lead normal lives.

Kim Irwin
University of California - Los Angeles

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