November 11, 2005

Parents of cancer patients face traumatic stress

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Most parents of children
undergoing cancer treatment report symptoms of post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), according to a new report.

PTSD can arise when someone experiences intensely stressful
events, and symptoms may include chronic anxiety, vivid
flashbacks, and difficulties with sleeping and concentrating.

Dr. Anne E. Kazak and colleagues from Children's Hospital
of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania used
standardized scales to evaluate PTSD symptoms in 119 mothers
and 52 fathers of 171 children being treated for a childhood

The average PTSD scores for mothers and fathers were within
the range of moderate PTSD, the team reports in the Journal of
Clinical Oncology. All but one parent reported symptoms
consistent with at least mild PTSD.

More than two thirds of the mothers and over half of the
fathers had PTSD within the moderate-to-severe range, the
results indicate. In families in which both parents
participated in the survey, 79 percent had at least one parent
with moderate-to-severe PTSD.

"These data raise complex issues regarding the meaning of
elevated PTSD symptoms during treatment," the investigators

"Given the high rate of prevalence of PTSD symptoms, for
example, it would be inappropriate to assume that PTSD symptoms
indicate psychiatric impairment," they advise. For many people,
the symptoms are "part of the process of responding and
reacting to one's circumstances and may be adaptive in certain

Nonetheless, "Brief and efficacious treatments have been
developed to assist parents in adjusting to their child's
diagnosis and treatment, and effective psychological treatments
for posttraumatic disorders have been developed," writes Dr.
Sharon Manne from Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, in a
related editorial.

By helping parents "address their own psychological
well-being," Dr. Kazak and colleagues point out, "we may be
best assuring that the psychological needs of the patients are
also met."

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Oncology, October 20, 2005.