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Do Most Breast Cancer Patients Develop PTSD?

ruban-1524554_960_720I’m grateful to Traci Pedersen for her March 3, 2016 article “Study Finds Most Breast Cancer Patients Develop PTSD Symptoms,” and to Dr. Grohol for all his efforts to help people heal from trauma.

I’d say 99% of breast cancer patients develop PTSD, even though symptoms may be repressed. It would require a remarkable childhood not to do so.

First, breast cancer is an immediate life threat. At diagnosis, the brain sets off our fight-flight stress chemicals, then for a minimum of a year or more (the suspense often lasts much longer), it’s like having a gun held to your head 24 x 7.

If someone did hold a gun to your head, even for “just” an hour, and even if you were a trauma expert versed in the best trauma recovery practice so you immediately in the next hour began Tapping, Trauma Release Exercise (TRE®), Peter Levine discharge, and running around the block until you discharged the fight-flight chemicals? “Just” one hour with that gun will take you three to six hours to discharge until you reach pre-trauma homeostasis. Actually you might have to do all that for a few days to reach homeostasis from just that one hour of dire life threat. The brain’s “negativity bias” makes us “velcro” for bad experiences, and “teflon” for good ones.

Then, how long does it take to discharge a year plus of that gun? Supposing, of course, that you’re even aware of the need for trauma release protocols? Your doctors likely aren’t aware of it, and neither is anyone else, so if you’re aware, you’ll have to do it despite feeling like a nut or a social outcast.

Second, cancer is caused by childhood trauma, as the many publications by Dr. Vincent Felitti, MD on the ACE Study document: here’s a summary. A population without childhood trauma is “medically uninteresting,” he says; they don’t develop adult-onset non-communicable lethal diseases like cancer and heart disease. Thus, breast cancer diagnosis is happening to a woman who’s likely had both suppressed childhood trauma, plus the toxic adult relationships that follow from it, all causing stress chemicals to have been eating at her tissues for 20 or more years, before the diagnosis.

The diagnosis thus also triggers all that lifetime of repressed trauma and stress chemicals.

Third, it threatens not only physical life, but the core self-identity of a female; cut off that body part, even if you survive, and who wants you? I was raised to be an object, but now my object parts will be taken away?  Is there anything left of me?

Fourth, very few people understand this, not the patient, and not even excellent doctors, loving spouses, etc., let alone those less-than-excellent. Thus the most urgent need one can have in trauma, “people support,” real compassion and mammalian attachment, is almost impossible to find outside a cancer support group — if one can find a group that gets this. If they don’t get it, a group could be further traumatizing rather than helpful. And is there time to travel to more meetings, when after diagnosis, treatment and wrangling with health care rules and insurance takes eight hours a day?

Breast and other cancers are on the rise because the more distant we get from a village-type society, to today’s internet dissociated non-society, the more childhood trauma occurs. See again the ACE Study, and Scared Sickby Robin Karr-Morse; they make it clear.

For most of human history, women, especially pregnant women, were supported daily by a group of other mammals, and there were an average of six adults to care for each child born, and to care for the mother. Today we have the same biological needs, but a ratio of even one adult to six children is considered high.

Even an American stay-at-home mom in a safe home with a loving husband out working, only has a one-to-one ratio. That’s not enough; it’s still too much stress on a mother alone to do the job a baby is built to need. Now think of the percent of infants in America raised under far less support than that; I’d say it’s 80% plus.    

Do Most Breast Cancer Patients Develop PTSD?

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Kathy Brous

Kathy is a technical writer and curates a website on infant attachment disorder, the brain science of trauma, and child trauma as documented in the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. She is co-founder of the Orange County, California ACEs Task Force. She is now completing her book "Don't Try This at Home" on how she discovered her infant attachment disorder and what was necessary to heal. She is also a breast cancer survivor. Her website is

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APA Reference
Brous, K. (2018). Do Most Breast Cancer Patients Develop PTSD?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 20 Apr 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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