Parents With Cancer Can Lead to PTSD Symptoms in Teens
> 10/1/2007 12:01:35 PM

Living through serious cases of cancer has been known to facilitate the development of post-traumatic stress disorder—a trend that very nicely fits the condition's definition as cancer produces both high anxiety and bodily trauma. And, of course, watching one's child live through the same experience understandably produces its own sort of pronounced, ongoing anxiety. But recent reports hint at an even deeper influence. Both childhood cancer survivors and, more surprisingly, the adolescent children of adult cancer patients display significantly elevated levels of PTSD-like symptoms that amount to a possible diagnosis.

The DSM-IV's decision to update the PTSD to include a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness as a possible trigger expanded its already inclusive boundaries despite a largely irrelevant argument regarding which of the many painful, shocking and emotionally exhausting events associated with cancer and its subsequent course of treatment could most likely serve as the "traumatic event" in question. While PTSD most often stems from a single life-changing incident, each cancer case constitutes a traumatic progression that often redefines a patient's life in just as dramatic a fashion as a more immediate brush with death or a deep personal loss.

Further complicating the issue is a recent European study linking patients' cancer diagnoses to PTSD symptoms in their adolescent children. Researchers note that the long-term influence of the condition is greater than they expected: even one to five years after an initial diagnosis, many of the children involved still displayed clear PTSD symptoms. The most prominent of these were recurring nightmares involving cancer or other injury to parental parties and a self-described inability to move beyond thoughts regarding the disease despite conscious efforts to avoid it altogether by refusing to hear news of mom or dad's condition.

The study's results provide mixed conclusions: despite the obvious effects of a parent's condition, many kids involved in the study proved suprisingly resilient: if the adult's health improved significantly, symptomatic severity in their kids declined. Others, however, experienced increasingly serious conditions even when parents had survived treatment. On first learning of a parent's cancer diagnosis, researchers found that nearly one-third of affected adolescents displayed PTSD-like symptoms severe enough to warrant psychiatric evaluation. Symptoms, on average, did decline notably with time, but many teens remained affected at study's end, and this trend was predictably more common in cases where the the death of a parent remained a possibility. The most obvious benefit of this study is the reaffirmation of a more nuanced PTSD definition. The category of traumatic events leading to a chronic affective condition cannot be limited to single-incident occurrences like injuries, deaths or disasters. The slow wasting away of a loved one (or even the threat of such a development) provides more than enough pain and anxiety to prompt a PTSD condition, and children who suffer through these experiences with notable symptoms should be examined carefully by the proper professionals.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy