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Young Children Treated for Cancer May Be at Risk for PTSD: Study

Procedures, treatments should be kid-friendly, painless as possible, researchers say

MONDAY, Sept. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly one in five young children with cancer suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a small new study.

Swiss researchers interviewed 48 mothers whose babies and young children had been diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment. Nine of the children had all of the symptoms of PTSD and 20 others had at least some symptoms, the most common being anxiety and flashbacks.

Children older than 18 months had a much higher risk of developing PTSD than younger children. The researchers also found that PTSD in the mother increased the risk of the disorder in the child.

There was no link between a child's cancer characteristics and the risk of PTSD, according to the researchers from the University of Zurich and the University Children's Hospital Zurich.

At the time of the study, the children were between 8 months and 4 years old. On average, it had been 15 months since their cancer diagnosis. The most common types of diagnoses were solid tumors, leukemia, lymphomas and brain tumors.

Eighty-five percent of the children had received chemotherapy, 56 percent had undergone surgery, 17 percent had radiation therapy and 12.5 percent had received a bone marrow transplant. Twenty-one (44 percent) of the children were still undergoing treatment at the time of the study.

"The results of our study show that cancer and its treatment can also have a traumatic impact in babyhood and infancy," Professor Markus Landolt said in a University of Zurich news release.

"More care should be taken to ensure that potentially stressful procedures, such as bone marrow aspiration, are carried out as child-friendly and painlessly as possible," he recommended.

Further, he encouraged health professionals to take measures to improve a child's sense of security in hospital and during the medical treatment to reduce their anxiety.

The study was published online in the journal Psycho-Oncology.

While the study found an association between early childhood cancer and PTSD, it did not establish that there was a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about coping with a diagnosis of cancer in children.

SOURCE: University of Zurich, news release, Sept. 6, 2012

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