Patient Education

Healthclicks Newsletters

Cancer Awareness

May 2013

PTSD Not Uncommon After Breast Cancer Diagnosis

A traumatic event, such as a natural disaster or a severe car accident, can trigger feelings of anxiety and distress-maybe even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). So, too, can a breast cancer diagnosis. Recent research shows that approximately 25 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer may suffer from PTSD. Learning good coping strategies can help you deal with such life-altering news.

Photo of woman with hand to forehead, looking sad

PTSD and breast cancer

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that a person may develop after going through a life-threatening event. For some people, being diagnosed with breast cancer can be so overwhelming that they get PTSD. Symptoms of the condition include constantly feeling scared, anxious, or irritable. Other tell-tale signs:

  • Reliving the cancer diagnosis-for example, having nightmares or constant thoughts about it

  • Avoiding anything related to the diagnosis-for instance, your doctor or your doctor's office

Any woman diagnosed with breast cancer may develop PTSD. But some women may be more at risk for the disorder. In a recent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers found that women younger than age 50 and those who are African-American or Asian were more likely to suffer from PTSD six months after a breast cancer diagnosis. Other factors that may raise your risk: the severity of the breast cancer, past mental health problems, and poorer physical health overall.

Coping strategies

Being diagnosed with breast cancer can elicit many emotions. You may feel angry, uneasy, sad, or scared. To help you cope, reach out for support. Confiding in family members and close friends can help you deal with not only the initial diagnosis but also all that comes after. Don't forget other avenues of assistance, too, such as religious organizations or support groups.

Along with a strong social network, try these other coping strategies:

  • Become better informed about the disease. Knowing what to expect may help you feel more in control and damper feelings of anxiety.

  • Keep up your old routines. Many people diagnosed with cancer find it easier to cope by continuing to work and sticking with their usual day-to-day activities.

  • Make time for a favorite hobby. Do something you enjoy every day, such as reading a book or taking a walk.

  • Seek ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Exercise can help. Also try meditation, yoga, or deep breathing.

  • Strive to stay positive. It can certainly be hard to be optimistic after you've been diagnosed with breast cancer. But doing so may help you feel better.

  • Give yourself time to adjust. Feelings of anger, despair, shock, and anxiety are normal after a breast cancer diagnosis. But talk with your doctor if those feelings persist for more than a month and interfere with work, family, or other responsibilities. Your doctor can determine if you may have PTSD. Treatments often include counseling and medication.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.


If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, find out more about the disease here.


Online Resources

National Cancer Institute - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Susan G. Komen for the Cure - Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis


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