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Cancer-Related Post-traumatic Stress (PDQ®)

Patient Version

Treatment of Cancer-Related Post-traumatic Stress (PTS)

Treatments used for PTS may be the same as treatments for PTSD.

Although there are no specific treatments for post-traumatic stress in patients with cancer, treatments used for people with PTSD can be useful in relieving distress in cancer patients and survivors.

Cancer survivors with post-traumatic stress need early treatment with methods that are used to treat other trauma victims.

Effects of post-traumatic stress are long-lasting and serious. It may affect the patient's ability to have a normal lifestyle and may affect personal relationships, education, and employment. Because avoiding places and persons linked with cancer is part of post-traumatic stress, the patient may avoid getting professional care.

It is important that cancer survivors are aware of the possible mental distress of living with cancer and the need for early treatment of post-traumatic stress. More than one kind of treatment may be used.

Crisis intervention techniques, relaxation training, and support groups may help symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

The crisis intervention method aims to relieve distress and help the patient return to normal activities. This method focuses on solving problems, teaching coping skills, and providing a supportive setting for the patient.

Some patients are helped by methods that teach them to change their behaviors by changing their thinking patterns. Through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), patients may be helped to:

  • Understand their symptoms.
  • Learn ways to cope and to manage stress (such as relaxation training).
  • Become aware of thinking patterns that cause distress and replace them with more balanced and useful ways of thinking.
  • Become less sensitive to upsetting triggers.

Support groups may also help people who have post-traumatic stress symptoms. In the group setting, patients can get emotional support, meet others with similar experiences and symptoms, and learn coping and management skills.

Medicines may be used for severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

For patients with severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress, medicines may be used. For example:

  • Updated: March 13, 2015