Penny Brohn UK

Help change life with cancer. For good

PTSD and Cancer

You may have recently seen this news on the BBC website, ‘Some cancer patients have PTSD years after diagnosis, study finds.’

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events’ and it has now been found that ‘a fifth of cancer patients experience post-traumatic stress disorder’ in a Malaysian study.

Penny Brohn UK has been specialising in a whole person approach to cancer for over 37 years – the Bristol Whole Life Approach. This recognises that, to be healthy, we need to pay attention to all parts of ourselves – our mind, body, spirit and emotions, as these are all closely connected and work together to support our immune system and its ability to keep us well.

Our mind (thoughts) and emotions (feelings) are closely connected, together making up our psychological health and wellbeing. A cancer diagnosis can have a major effect on the way you think and feel about yourself and can be very stressful. It can feel like an emotional rollercoaster and everyone reacts to it differently. Some people experience their emotions straight away but many people experience a delayed emotional response.

In a recent study by our Research and Evaluation Team, it was found that the main concerns for attending our Living Well course and seeking additional support after diagnosis were psychological and emotional. It was determined that 59% of our clients listed this as their primary concern and 44% listed it as their secondary concern.

“Emotional health – stress management – tendancy to bottle things up while maintaining a calmer exterior.” – Reason one Living Well course attendee gave for needing support.

This most recent study found tested 469 patients with various types of cancer for PTSD after six months and then again four years after they’d been diagnosed. At six months 21% had PTSD, which dropped to 6% four years on.

The study’s lead author, Caryn Mei Hsien Chan said: “Many cancer patients believe they need to adopt a ‘warrior mentality’, and remain positive and optimistic from diagnosis through treatment to stand a better chance of beating their cancer. To these patients, seeking help for the emotional issues they face is akin to admitting weakness.”

When we are dealing with crisis, it is normal to go into defence mode. In order to cope with diagnosis – and possible treatment – we power through, with barely a chance to stop and think about how we feel about what is happening to us. Because of this, the effects of diagnosis can often be delayed and in some cases – it is now evident – can manifest as PTSD.

This can be very harrowing to come to terms with years after you thought you had made your way through the worst of your experience. But the good news is that there is support for this and we are here to help.

There are ways to help improve your psychological wellbeing, which can be achieved through basic lifestyle changes. By enhancing your diet, making exercise a priority – even if it is just taking a moment to walk slowly around your room and resting with an aim to sleep better, it can significantly improve how you feel about day-to-day tasks. Especially when you are going through tough times.

This recent study found that patients living with breast cancer who received special dedicated support and counselling during this time were almost four times less likely to develop PTSD in the short term. Healthy eating, staying active, managing stress and reconnecting with the things you love can make a big difference to your health and wellbeing.

Our Bristol Whole Life Approach recongises that in order to achieve the best results in survivorship, an integrative approach to cancer is necessary. Bringing together both medical advice and complementary approaches, it is important to encourage support in every aspect of a person’s life, helping them to build resilience and live the best life possible, whatever their circumstances.

If you have been affected by cancer and need support, please contact us on 0303 3000 118 or email

Was this post helpful?

Subscribe to our mailing list

Receive a weekly update to your inbox on our services and fundraising events.