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Effect of childhood cancer - survivors suffer ongoing PTSD symptoms

Childhood cancer survivors are four times more likely to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as young adults.  Young adults who have survived cancer often suffer from PTSD symptoms as a result of their disease and treatment.  These symptoms include phobias, startling easily, feelings of edginess and hypervigilence, extreme anxiety and avoidance of reminders of the disease and treatment.  These symptoms can be disabling and prevent normal functioning.  These symptoms develop in young adulthood even if not exhibited while still a child or under treatment. 

“Childhood cancer survivors, like others with PTSD, have been exposed to an event that made them feel very frightened or helpless or horrified,” said Dr. Margaret Stuber, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, a Jonsson Cancer Center researcher and first author of the study. “This study demonstrates that some of these survivors are suffering many years after successful treatment. Development of PTSD can be quite disabling for cancer survivors. This is treatable and not something they have to just live with.”

“People who had more intense treatment are more likely to have these symptoms because their treatment was more traumatic,” Stuber said. “And because more damage was done to their bodies, it makes it more difficult to have a good life later. It’s all interdigitating.”  Fortunately, there are available treatments to help.  Treatments that may help survivors to function include psychotherapy and appropriate medications.