How traumatic is breast cancer? Post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) and risk factors for severe PTSS at 3 and 15 months after surgery in a nationwide cohort of Danish women treated for primary breast cancer.Br J Cancer. 2011 Feb 01; 104(3):419-26.BJ
The literature shows considerable between-study variation in the prevalence of post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) among women with breast cancer. Our aim was, therefore, to explore the prevalence of and risk factors for cancer-related PTSS in a nationwide inception cohort of women treated for primary breast cancer.
In all, 68% of all Danish women receiving surgery for primary breast cancer between October 2001 and March 2004 completed a questionnaire at 3 months post surgery (n=3343), which included the impact of event scale (IES). In all, 94% of the disease-free women also completed a follow-up questionnaire at 15 months post surgery. Data on pre-cancer demographic, socioeconomic, and psychiatric status were obtained from national registries. The Danish Breast Cancer Cooperative Group and surgical departments provided information on disease variables, treatment, and comorbidity.
At 3 months post surgery, 20.1% had IES total scores suggesting severe PTSS (35), compared with 14.3% at 15 months. In all, 48% with severe PTSS at 3 months also had scores above the cutoff at 15 months. Main predictors of severe PTSS at 15 months were low social status, previous physical and mental illness, axillary lymph node involvement (>3), and reduced physical functioning (PF) at 3 months.
The results confirm that receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can be a significant traumatic experience, and that many women experience persistent cancer-related PTSS. Low social status, poor health status, low levels of PF, and disease severity were found to be risk factors for severe PTSS.