FRIDAY, March 1, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly one in four breast cancer patients has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder shortly after they receive their cancer diagnosis, and the risk is highest in black and Asian patients, a new study reveals.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur when a person has experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event.
Researchers interviewed more than 1,100 breast cancer patients over the age of 20 and found that 23 percent of them had PTSD symptoms during the first two to three months after diagnosis. However, those symptoms declined over the next three months.
Younger women were more likely than older women to have PTSD symptoms, and Asian and black women had a more than 50 percent higher risk than white women, according to the researchers at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.
The findings were released online Feb. 28 ahead of publication in an upcoming print issue of 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," lead author Dr. Alfred Neugut, a professor of cancer research and a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons and Mailman School of Public Health, said in a Columbia University Medical Center news release.
"The ultimate outcome of this research is to find ways to improve the quality of patients' lives," said 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," he explained.
The study findings may also apply to patients with other types of cancer, the researchers said. They noted that PTSD symptoms have been reported in patients diagnosed with prostate cancer and lymphoma.
Breastcancer.org has more about breast cancer and PTSD.