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Nearly One in Four Women Newly Diagnosed with Breast Cancer Report PTSD Symptoms

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Key Points

  • Study found that 23% of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer reported symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder shortly after diagnosis.
  • Younger women were more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD, and data suggest Asian and black women are at a more than 50% higher risk than white women.

A study by researchers at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, has found that nearly one in four women (23%) newly diagnosed with breast cancer reported symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) shortly after diagnosis, with increased risk among black and Asian women. The research has been e-published ahead of print in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

“This study is one of the first to evaluate the course of PTSD after a diagnosis of breast cancer,” said lead author Alfred I. Neugut, MD, PhD, the Myron M. Studner Professor of Cancer Research, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, at Columbia University’s College of Physicians & Surgeons and Mailman School of Public Health, and a member of the HICCC.

Study Details

“We analyzed interview responses from more than 1,100 women,” said Dr. Neugut. “During the first 2 to 3 months after diagnosis, nearly a quarter of them met the criteria for PTSD, although the symptoms declined over the next 3 months. Younger women were more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD, and data suggest Asian and black women are at a more than 50% higher risk than white women.”

The 1,139 research participants were part of the Breast Cancer Quality of Care Study (BQUAL). Between 2006 and 2010, women with newly diagnosed breast cancer, stages I to III, over the age of 20 were recruited from NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York; the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit; and Kaiser-Permanente in Northern California. Each participant completed three phone interviews. The first interview occured 2 to 3 months after diagnosis and before the third chemotherapy cycle, if the patient was receiving chemotherapy. The second interview was 4 months after diagnosis, and the third was 6 months after diagnosis.

Quality-of-life Implications

“The ultimate outcome of this research is to find ways to improve the quality of patients’ lives,” said Dr. Neugut, who is also an oncologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia. “If we can identify potential risk factors for PTSD, when women are diagnosed with breast cancer, we could provide early prevention and intervention to minimize PTSD symptoms. This approach might also have an indirect impact on the observed racial disparity in breast cancer survival.”

The research team believes that these findings may apply to patients with other cancer diagnoses as well. Dr. Neugut noted that in previous research, symptoms of PTSD have been reported following prostate cancer and lymphoma diagnoses.

The paper is titled “Racial Disparities in Post-traumatic Stress after Diagnosis of Localized Breast Cancer: The BQUAL Study.” Additional contributors are Neomi Vin-Raviv, Grace Clarke Hillyer, Dawn Hershman, Sandro Galea, Nicole Leoce, and Wei-Yann Tsai (CUMC); Dana Bovbjerg (University of Pittsburgh); Lawrence Kushi and Candyce Kroenke (Kaiser-Permanente); Lois Lamerato (Henry Ford Health System); Christine Ambrosone (Roswell Park Cancer Institute); Heiddis Valdimarsdottir and Lina Jandorf (Mt. Sinai); and Jeanne Mandelblatt (Georgetown). In addition to Dr. Neugut, Drs. Hershman and Tsai are members of the HICCC.

The study was supported by the Department of Defense, the National Cancer Institute, Breast Cancer Foundation and Environmental Health Foundation fellowship (grant numbers: NCI R01 [CA100598], NCI R01 [CA124924 and 127617], U10 [CA84131] and KO5 [CA96940]). The authors declare no financial or other conflicts of interest.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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