Breast cancer diagnoses are usually an extremely traumatic experience for affected women

Breast cancer diagnoses are usually an extremely traumatic experience for affected women

Diagnosis Breast cancer leads to post-traumatic stress symptoms in many women
The diagnosis of breast cancer can trigger post-traumatic stress symptoms in the women affected. A team of researchers from Munich found this out. Symptoms persist for at least a year in over half of those affected. Doctors should be aware that patients also need support in this area.

Research into breast cancer
According to the German Cancer Aid, around 75,000 women in Germany develop breast cancer every year. About 17,000 patients die of it every year. Numerous scientists worldwide are researching the disease more closely and are continually gaining new knowledge. Recently, a team of researchers from the University of Buffalo, New York, reported a high risk of breast cancer in women from periodontitis. Scientists at the Ludwig Maximilians University (LMU) in Munich have now determined that the diagnosis of breast cancer can trigger post-traumatic stress symptoms.
For the women concerned, the diagnosis of “breast cancer” is usually an extremely traumatic experience. (Image: Eskymaks /

Post-traumatic stress symptoms after one year
According to a press release from Munich University, the study Cognicares by Dr. Kerstin Hermelink from the Breast Center of the LMU Women's Clinic that these symptoms can still be measured in the majority of women one year after the finding. The researchers published their results in the journal "Psycho-Oncology". The team led by Kerstin Hermelink and her doctoral student Varinka Voigt has scientifically accompanied more than 160 breast cancer patients over a period of one year as part of the Cognicares study funded by the German Cancer Aid and compared them with 60 women without a cancer diagnosis. At three times, all participants were examined for symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Patients with emotional deafness and great irritability
Post-traumatic stress disorder can be associated with passed out anger, fear of death, grief and emotional emptiness. Physical complaints such as sweating, tremors, nausea, shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat can also occur. In the Munich study, 82.5 percent of all patients showed post-traumatic stress symptoms such as constant, unavoidable thoughts about the disease, the feeling of emotional numbness, great irritability with outbursts of anger and excessive fearfulness before the start of treatment. A year later, only a few patients (two percent) developed a fully developed post-traumatic stress disorder, but over half (57.3 percent) still suffered from post-traumatic symptoms.

Breast cancer diagnosis worse than serious accident
"It is remarkable that the high emotional burden of the disease persists over such a long period of time," said Hermelink. A comparison with other triggers of trauma shows how serious the diagnosis of cancer is: Patients who had already had another trauma before their illness and diagnosis, who had been the victim of a serious accident or a violent attack, therefore held up 40 percent diagnosed breast cancer for the worse experience.

Data are not based on self-disclosure
"Cognicares is one of the very few longitudinal studies on traumatic disorders that have been diagnosed with breast cancer," said Hermelink. According to the information, the data are not based on self-disclosure, but were collected using a diagnostic interview by psychologists. Only patients without metastases were examined: women who could have legitimate hope of a cure. In addition, women with previous mental illnesses and a lack of knowledge of German were excluded. "We therefore assume that our data tend to underestimate the spread of post-traumatic stress symptoms in breast cancer patients and healthy women," says Hermelink.

Why the burden lasts longer in some patients
In their data, the scientists looked for influencing factors, why not all patients developed post-traumatic stress symptoms and why the stress persisted in some of them. “We were unable to demonstrate any influence on the type of surgery or treatment with chemotherapy. In contrast, there was clearly a favorable effect of education. Education appears to be a marker for resources that allow you to recover more quickly from the psychological stress of a cancer diagnosis, ”explained Hermelink.

Patients need appropriate support
As the university writes, the study results are also interesting against the background that the classification system DSM, which is used in psychiatry as a guide for diagnoses, has no longer listed life-threatening diseases as potential triggers for trauma since 2013. "Given the results of our studies and my experience working with breast cancer patients as a psycho-oncologist, I think that's wrong," said Hermelink. "Doctors should be aware that after a breast cancer diagnosis, the majority of patients develop post-traumatic stress symptoms and need the appropriate support." (Ad)

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