A CANCER diagnosis can leave lasting psychological scars akin to those inflicted by war.
Researchers in the US found that more than a decade after being told they had the disease, nearly four out of 10 cancer survivors were still plagued by symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Those symptoms included being extra jumpy, having disturbing thoughts about the cancer and its treatment, or feeling emotionally numb towards friends and family, said lead researcher Sophia Smith from the Duke Cancer Institute in North Carolina.
One in 10 patients also said they avoided thinking about their cancer and one in 20 said they steered clear of situations or activities that reminded them of the disease.
"You worry if the patient is avoiding medical care, you worry they might not be getting follow-ups," Smith said. "We don't have data to support that, but we worry about it."
The study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology is based on a survey of 566 patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Smith's team had surveyed these patients for PTSD symptoms once before, estimating that about one in 12 had full-blown PTSD. The diagnosis involved a trio of symptoms, including avoidance, arousal and flashbacks.
Many more had one or more PTSD symptoms, however. The newest survey also showed they often persist.
Overall, half of the patients had no PTSD symptoms 13 years after their diagnosis. The problems had disappeared in 12pc, but had remained or worsened in 37pc.
"This study found that people seemed to have worse PTSD later on," said Bonnie Green, a trauma expert at Georgetown University.
"It's just very stressful for people to be told that they have cancer. You can't just assume that they feel bad now, but it will go away."
She stressed that it's only a minority of patients who develop full-blown PTSD, but added that depression is common after a cancer diagnosis.