Breast cancer patients with a history of anxiety and mood disorders are at a greater risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following diagnosis, according to a new study.
The study by Ohio State University Medical Centre involving 74 breast cancer patients revealed that 12 women experienced PTSD 18 months after diagnosis.
"What is unique about breast cancer patients with PTSD is that they have already had this double hit of both anxiety and mood disorders even before they got the diagnosis," said Barbara Andersen, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
"So when they are in a new situation that is very anxiety provoking - cancer diagnosis and treatment - it is not surprising that they are at risk for developing PTSD," she added.
Andersen conducted the study with Deanna Golden-Kreutz, clinical research manager at Ohio State's Cardiovascular Clinical Research Unit, and Rebecca Shelby, a former Ohio State graduate student now at the Duke University Medical Centre.
The researchers found that in addition to the women who had PTSD, another 15 had "subsyndromal" PTSD, meaning that they experienced significant symptoms of PTSD, but not at the level of those with the full diagnosis.
Women in two groups those who had PTSD and those with subsyndromal PTSD were nearly four times more likely than those with no PTSD to agree that they were unable to work because of emotional distress.
"That's a huge difference, and shows the real-life impact that PTSD symptoms can have on some breast cancer patients," said Andersen.
"I think depression is the mental health condition that needs the most attention as far as treating breast cancer patients, even more so than PTSD.
"That's the direction our research is going, and we are working to develop an intervention to treat cancer patients with depression," she added.
The study appears in the April 2008 issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress.