Objectives: We performed an observational prospective cohort study to investigate post-traumatic stress symptoms, emerging after cancer diagnosis, which could influence patients’ short- and long-term adjustment to illness, in order to foster screening measures and management of psychological factors in daily clinical pathways.
Methods: Patients’ post-traumatic stress symptoms, psychological well-being and perceived quality of life were assessed through standardised questionnaires. The Profile of Mood States questionnaire was administered at pre-operative assessment (T0), surgical admission (T1) and discharge from hospital (T2). The Impact of Event Scale and the StateTrait Anxiety Inventory were administered at T0, T1, T2 and 2 years after discharge (T3). At 2-year follow-up, women were also asked to rate their perceived quality of life on a 0–10 visual analogue scale.
Results: Between January 2014 and April 2015, 150 women were enrolled. Results showed that more than 90% of patients experienced post-traumatic stress symptoms after cancer diagnosis (14% with severe symptoms and 76.7% with moderate symptoms) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms that persisted up to the 2-year from discharge follow-up, with significant improvement only 2 years after hospital discharge. In particular, mediation models showed that intrusive thoughts impede mood adjustment to the disease during the pre-surgical phase, with anxiety amplifying the negative effect, while symptoms of avoidance are more detrimental in the long term for patients’ quality of life.
Conclusion: PTSD symptom clusters have different influence on short- and long-term reaction to illness. Based on this evidence, appropriate interventions to manage PTSDs in the context of oncology should be developed.