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Posttraumatic Stress And Psychological Growth In Children With Cancer: Has The Traumatic Impact Of Cancer Been Overestimated?

Sean Phipps, James L. Klosky, Alanna Long, Melissa M. Hudson, Qinlei Huang, Hui Zhang, Robert B. Noll

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Purpose To examine posttraumatic stress disorder and posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSD/PTSS) in children with cancer using methods that minimize focusing effects and allow for direct comparison to peers without a history of cancer. Patients and Methods Children with cancer (n = 255) stratified by time since diagnosis, and demographically matched peers (n = 101) were assessed for PTSD using structured diagnostic interviews by both child and parent reports, and survey measures of PTSS and psychological benefit/growth by child report. Results Cancer was identified as a traumatic event by 52.6% of children with cancer, declining to 23.8% in those ≥ 5 years from diagnosis. By diagnostic interview, 0.4% of children with cancer met criteria for current PTSD, and 2.8% met lifetime criteria by self-report. By parent report, 1.6% of children with cancer met current criteria and 5.9% met lifetime criteria for PTSD. These rates did not differ from controls (all Ps >.1). PTSS levels were descriptively lower in children with cancer but did not differ from controls when all were referring to their most traumatic event (P = .067). However, when referring specifically to cancer-related events, PTSS in the cancer group were significantly lower than in controls (P = .002). In contrast, perceived growth was significantly higher in the cancer group when referring to cancer (P < .001). Conclusion These findings suggest no evidence of increased PTSD or PTSS in youths with cancer. Although childhood cancer remains a significant and challenging event, these findings highlight the capacity of children to adjust, and even thrive, in the face of such challenge.