Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Thursday, October 1, 1998 Published at 23:10 GMT 00:10 UK


Cancer patients suffer memory flashbacks

Cancer patients often suffer disturbing flashbacks

One in four cancer sufferers suffers symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a new study.

The research at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London and Sutton shows that cancer patients often suffer memory flashbacks which they cannot control.

The Cancer Research Campaign says these can affect their ability to cope with the disease.

Professor Chris Brewin from the University of London studied 130 depressed and non-depressed cancer patients.

One in four patients reported distressing visual memories which intruded into their everyday life.

One in 10 of these were not depressed and one in three were depressed.

Seventy-nine per cent of the memories involved death and illness and 54% were directly related to cancer.

They included memories of incidents involving relatives who had died of cancer.

Hopeless and helpless

For the depressed patients, the post-traumatic stress disorder often coincided with the onset of their depression and worsened their anxiety.

[ image: Cancer patients suffer the same symptoms as many involved in the Hillsborough disaster]
Cancer patients suffer the same symptoms as many involved in the Hillsborough disaster
Professor Brewin said: "The flashbacks were associated with patients coping poorly with their cancer, and feeling hopeless and helpless."

Like other sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) such as the Hillsborough victims, most patients tried to block out the memories.

However, they often found they could not avoid them coming back.

Professor Brewin said the patients could be helped in a similar way to people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

This would involve therapy to teach sufferers to confront their traumatic experiences in a positive way rather than blocking them out.

Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign, said: "If therapies used for PSTD could be successful in preventing depression in cancer patients, it would greatly improve their quality of life."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

29 Sep 98†|†Health
Coping with cancer pain

23 Sep 98†|†Health
Poor at risk through cancer treatment delay

10 Sep 98†|†Health
Drive to combat killer cancer

23 Aug 98†|†Health
£250m call to cut cancer waiting times

06 Aug 98†|†Health
Better breast cancer screening 'could save lives'

Internet Links

Cancer Research Campaign

Post traumatic stress disorder

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99