Breast Cancer and Trauma

By October 19, 2018Blog

Post-traumatic stress symptoms are often associated with combat veterans. However, women diagnosed with breast cancer have also experienced a traumatic event and are likely to develop similar symptoms. Both are warriors who may find themselves battling the intense emotions and crippling physical symptoms resulting from life-threatening events that impact their lives on a daily basis.

The Link Between Cancer, Trauma, and Post-Traumatic Stress

Any cancer diagnosis can result in sleepless nights spent worrying about all of the “what-ifs”. For many women, cancer of the breast adds another layer of stress because it can impact a woman’s self-image and, in some instances, her closest relationships. In addition, cancer treatments are notoriously challenging and draining.

Can the high level of stress caused by cancer cause post-traumatic stress? This may seem like a common sense “yes” for many people. After all, trauma can result from a wide range of experiences including combat, accidents, and assault. Fighting breast cancer is no less traumatic.

A 2016 study examined the link between cancer of the breast, trauma, and PTSD.

Patients aged 65 or younger with stage 0-3 cancer were evaluated for PTSD symptoms three times: before being treated, after undergoing chemotherapy, and finally, one year after their initial diagnosis. The researchers examined the effects of time, chemotherapy, and mastectomies.

The scientists concluded that most people experienced the symptoms of PTSD after being diagnosed with cancer. Throughout the year of the study, having breast cancer resulted in a definite increase in PTSD symptoms among the study participants.

The Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress

How can you tell if you’re experiencing the symptoms of PTSD? When does stress escalate into PTSD? It can be difficult to precisely determine, but about 80% of women with cancer of the breast will develop PTSD.

PTSD symptoms include:

• Trouble sleeping, nightmares
• Flashbacks
• Unusual irritability or crying
• Obsessing on the cancer or, going to the other extreme, avoiding any place or discussion that’s related to the disease
• Feelings of numbness or disconnection, refusing to participate in customary activities or avoiding people
• Extreme depression, guilt, hopelessness, or other strong emotions that drown out all positive feelings
• Lost appetite – this isn’t unusual, especially when undergoing chemo, but can become extreme and dangerous as your strength diminishes
• Inability to concentrate and memory problems
• Drug or alcohol abuse

The Bottom Line

If you or a loved one has cancer, stress is inevitable. The difference between a normal level of stress and PTSD is a matter of degree. With PTSD, the symptoms usually appear within three months, are present for longer than one month, and severely affect your daily life. Occasionally, PTSD symptoms won’t appear for many months or even years following the traumatic event.

Fighting the battle with cancer takes all of your strength. Dealing with the symptoms of PTSD while going through everything else associated with the disease creates an extra burden you don’t need or want.

Lessening the impact of PTSD on your life can be thought of as putting on armor before heading into battle. If you are better able to get enough rest and nutrition, can function more effectively while undergoing treatment and recovery, and feel more in control of your life, you’ll be better equipped for the difficult battle ahead.

Accelerated Resolution Therapy – An Evidence-Based Therapy for PTSD

PTSD symptoms can worsen over time. Don’t struggle alone – you have too much else to deal with. Getting help for the PTSD symptoms will allow you to put your primary focus on fighting your cancer, where it needs to be.

One of the major benefits of accelerated resolution therapy (ART) is that studies are finding that clients experience relief from debilitating PTSD symptoms in only one to five sessions. This makes ART particularly useful for anyone already dealing with the rigors of cancer treatments.

ART is recognized by the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices as an effective psychotherapy for PTSD. This therapy has been used successfully with combat veterans, many of whom suffer from extreme PTSD. Researchers have found that ART is also a promising therapy for a number of other psychological ailments.

To learn more about how ART could help you during this difficult and traumatic time, contact ART International.