Adjusting to Survivorship

Post-traumatic stress symptoms after childhood and adolescent cancer

Cancer and treatments for cancer can be traumatic, especially for children and adolescents. Research has found that childhood cancer survivors and their families are more likely to show post-traumatic stress symptoms than other families. It is important that your child receives high quality emotional care during and after cancer treatment to avoid the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What is post-traumatic stress?

Post-traumatic stress is a health condition that can happen after extreme emotional trauma. People with post-traumatic stress symptoms have a hard time dealing with past traumatic experiences and can feel stressed or scared even when they are no longer in danger.

What symptoms should I look for?

Post-traumatic stress can have different signs in children than adults.

For young children, look for the following symptoms:

  • Wetting the bed when they are already toilet trained.
  • Forgetting how or being unable to talk.
  • Acting out medical events during playtime.
  • Being unusually clingy to the parent or caregiver.

For older children and adolescents, look for the following symptoms:

  • Flashbacks and nightmares.
  • Unusual behavior.
  • Losing interest in activities.
  • Feeling sad.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Nervousness.

If you notice these behaviors in your child, please contact your child’s doctor. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress early can help your child in his or her recovery. Post-traumatic stress symptoms can occur in patients many years after treatment, and can also happen in the family members of children that have been treated for a serious illness. Contact your doctor or social worker if you notice any signs of post-traumatic stress in any of your family members.

Our Health After Therapy program, which is designed for patients who are five or more years beyond the completion of their treatment, also includes a child psychologist who screens each patient and can refer them for additional counseling or psychology services if needed. To learn more about the Health After Therapy program, please call (650) 498-6206.


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