What Mesothelioma Caregivers Need to Know About PTSD

As if a diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma isn’t challenging enough, researchers have found that mesothelioma patients and people diagnosed with other forms of cancer are particularly vulnerable to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The condition is generally associated with military personnel and survivors of physically traumatic events such as shootings, terrorist attacks and rape. However, experts say that being diagnosed with mesothelioma or other cancers has the same characteristics of being a shocking, scary or dangerous event.

Research shows that more than 20% of those diagnosed with a cancer will experience the physically and emotionally taxing symptoms of PTSD at some point after the diagnosis.

The research was conducted by scientists from Malaysia and Boston and included almost 500 cancer patients with diagnoses ranging from breast or gynecologic cancers to skin cancer and rare cancers like mesothelioma.

According to senior investigator Fremonta Meyer, MD., of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, the broad range of patients that were included was purposeful. “One strength of our study was that we examined PTSD across a spectrum of different cancer types, compared to most other studies which have examined only specific cancer types, such as breast cancer.”

The patients in the study were enrolled within one month of their diagnosis and initially submitted to a 14-point scale that determines patient levels of anxiety and depression. The study then ranked patients based on their level of psychological distress with repeated follow up.

They found that at six months after diagnosis, cancer patients had a 21.7 percent incidence of PTSD. They also found increased levels of cognitive impairment involving memory and concentration.

According to Caryn Mei Hsien Chan, Ph.D., of the National University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, “In the past, issues with cognition among patients with cancer used to be dubbed as ‘chemobrain’ and was often attributed as a side effect of chemotherapy. We are still exploring as to whether this decline in cognitive functioning among so many of our patients may, in fact, be more likely related to PTSD than to be the result of treatment with cancer therapy.”

Chan says that in dealing with cancer patients, including those diagnosed with mesothelioma, caregivers need to be alert and patients need to ask for help. “Taking the time to be supportive and sort of ‘debrief’ patients who are diagnosed with cancer from the start can make an immense difference to every individual patient being diagnosed and undergoing treatment.”

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, take the time to talk to an expert. The Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net can provide you with information on valuable resources to help you with the disease’s challenges. Call us at 1-800-692-8608.

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is the head writer of our Mesothelioma.net news blog. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Terri believes that knowledge is power and she is committed to sharing news about the impact of mesothelioma, the latest research and medical breakthroughs, and victims’ stories.

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