Recognizing and Responding to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in People With Cancer

Kristine Kwekkeboom

Julia S. Seng

ONF 2002, 29(4), 643-650. DOI: 10.1188/02.ONF.643-650

Purpose/Objectives: To describe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in patients with cancer and identify nursing assessment and intervention strategies.

Data Sources: Discussion of recent research literature in relation to oncology nursing practice.

Data Synthesis: 4%-19% of patients with cancer experience symptoms of PTSD. When PTSD routinely is considered as a risk for patients with cancer, nurses can reframe intense psychological and physiologic reactions or patient distress as possible trauma reactions and implement appropriate interventions and referral.

Conclusions: Patients with cancer may experience PTSD as a consequence of their cancer diagnosis, treatment, or a past traumatic episode. PTSD may interfere with patients' ability to tolerate treatment and return for crucial follow-up care. To date, no studies have explored interventions for PTSD in adult patients with cancer.

Implications for Nursing: Oncology nurses can help patients with PTSD by interpreting psychological symptoms with the possibility of PTSD in mind, screening for PTSD across the illness trajectory, providing emotional support, teaching coping strategies, and advocating for further assessment, medical treatment, and appropriate referral within the multi-disciplinary care team.

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