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Cancer-Related Post-traumatic Stress (PDQ®)


Cancer-related post-traumatic stress (PTS) is a lot like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but not as severe.

Patients have a range of normal reactions when they hear they have cancer. These include:

  • Repeated frightening thoughts.
  • Being distracted or overexcited.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Feeling detached from oneself or reality.

Patients may also have feelings of shock, fear, helplessness, or horror. These feelings may lead to cancer-related post-traumatic stress (PTS), which is a lot like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a specific group of symptoms that affect many survivors of stressful events. These events usually involve the threat of death or serious injury to oneself or others. People who have survived military combat, natural disasters, violent personal attack (such as rape), or other life-threatening stress may suffer from PTSD. The symptoms for PTS and PTSD are a lot alike, but most cancer patients are able to cope and don't develop full PTSD. The symptoms of cancer-related PTS are not as severe and don't last as long as PTSD.

Cancer-related PTS can occur anytime during or after treatment.

Patients dealing with cancer may have symptoms of post-traumatic stress at any point from diagnosis through treatment, after treatment is complete, or during possible recurrence of the cancer. Parents of childhood cancer survivors may also have post-traumatic stress.

This summary is about cancer-related post-traumatic stress in adults, its symptoms, and its treatment.

  • Updated: March 13, 2015