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Emotional Stress Of Mesothelioma Diagnosis Could Lead to PTSD

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MesotheliomaHelp has reported time and again about the stress mesothelioma patients face. Trying to handle treatments in the midst of managing bills, insurance, appointments and communication with friends and family can take its toll. Now, researchers report the emotional impact of dealing with a cancer diagnosis is even more serious than previously reported.

A team of Malaysian researchers report that nearly one-fifth of cancer patients are likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) after their diagnosis, according to a Nov. 20 article in MedPage Today. In their study of just over 200 patients, they found that more than 20% of cancer patients had symptoms of PTSD  a month after diagnosis. About 33% of those patients were still struggling with PTSD four years later.

“Our data underscore the risk of developing persistent PTSD even years after cancer diagnosis and treatment,” said Lei Hum Wee, PhD, of the National University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

The team from Kuala Lumpur is not the first to identify PTSD in cancer patients, however, they are the first to use gold-standard clinical interviews and to follow a cohort for as long as four years. With the cancer diagnosis being the traumatic exposure, to be diagnosed with PTSD a patient must also have had “at least one recurring symptom, three avoidance/numbing symptoms, and two arousal symptoms, all persisting for more than a month and resulting in significant distress or functional impairment.” For subsyndromal PTSD the patient‘s response must lead to distress or functional impairment persisting more than a month, associated with the presence of at least six symptoms from three of four categories (recurring, avoidance/numbing, hyperarousal, and duration), according to the researchers.

Numerous studies have shown that if after a terminal cancer diagnosis a patient does not receive proper support managing the vast number of issues they are faced with, such as financial issues, transportation needs, personal care and family management, the stress can lead to depression, anxiety and failing health. In fact, according to a 2007 breakthrough study conducted by the Institute of Medicine, physicians should also monitor the social and emotional health, or psychosocial needs, of patients to lessen their suffering and to “support their return to health.”  The IOM report stressed that, “Psychosocial issues in cancer are palpable, important, and potentially crippling.”

The researchers in the current PTSD study reported that for the patients in their study, a cognitive behavioral therapy had “significant improvement in anxiety and distress associated with fear of cancer recurrence.” Mesothelioma patients should discuss treatment options for their mental health with their oncologist. Treating the emotional aspect of mesothelioma should not be ignored.

“This [study] highlights a need to monitor PTSD among long-term cancer survivors, especially because many of the symptoms of PTSD, such as avoidance and cognitive difficulties (as well as psychological distress), are enduring, which may potentially impact adherence to treatment,” said Dr. Lei Hum Wee.

Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.

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