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Psychological adjustment one year after the diagnosis of breast cancer: A prototype study of delayed post-traumatic stress disorder


Dr Ask Elklit, National Centre for Psychotraumatology, University of Southern Denmark, Campusvej 55, 5230 Odense M, Denmark (e-mail:


Objective. The utilization of a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnostic framework for categorizing the psychological adjustment of breast cancer (BC) patients has been debated. We wanted to study the prevalence of PTSD and predictors for PTSD.

Design. The current study is a one-year follow-up of 64 early BC patients.

Methods. PTSD, subclinical PTSD, delayed onset PTSD and several theory-driven predictive variables were examined.

Results. Thirteen per cent of the patients showed full symptoms of disease-related PTSD compared with 7% at the initial study (6 weeks after diagnosis). Considerable changes were observed in all PTSD clusters (intrusion, avoidance, and arousal), in most cases representing a decrease in symptom level. Immature defence style, emotional coping, avoidant behaviour, and negative affectivity were all implicated as predicting variables in a hierarchical multiple regression analysis which explained 65% of the variability of PTSD severity one year after diagnosis.

Conclusions. This study highlights the PTSD diagnosis as being highly relevant in oncology settings. Early screening for the above-mentioned four variables may help early identification of the patients most at risk of developing PTSD.