Examining Posttraumatic Growth in Individuals Receiving Cancer Treatment

Individuals who survive cancer often report how their lives have changed, emotionally, physically and even spiritually. It is well known that people who experience a significant life challenge or adversity adapt in unique ways. Some come through the experience with feelings of loss and a reduced sense of life satisfaction. Illnesses such as cancer, even when in remission, can have residual psychological effects causing fear and worry of relapse among survivors. But many people who go through difficult experiences such as cancer treatment actually gain a more positive perspective on life. This emotional shift is referred to as posttraumatic growth (PTG) and is a phenomenon that deserves further exploration.

In an attempt to understand how a significant health event, specifically cancer treatment, affects PTG, T. Em Arpawong of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California recently examined this dynamic in 114 individuals receiving outpatient care for cancer. The participants completed questionnaires that asked about their adjustment since they began treatment. Arpawong evaluated the levels of physical symptoms and pain and looked closely at both physical and mental quality of life (QOL) indices of the participants. The results revealed that the cancer treatment experience produced positive growth in most of the individuals receiving treatment. Most participants (87%) reported at least one positive life change, and half (50%) reported at least one negative life change, said Arpawong.

The positive changes were associated with mental and physical health even though participants reported poorer QOL due to pain and functioning. One of the largest increases in QOL was due to decreased nausea from the cancer treatments. This suggests that PTG is a malleable measure that can be dramatically impacted by external factors such as medication and mobility. In sum, the results demonstrate that these clients experienced positive PTG more than negative PTG as a direct result of undergoing this life altering experience.

Arpawong, T. E., Richeimer, S. H., Weinstein, F., Elghamrawy, A., Milam, J. E. (2012). Posttraumatic growth, quality of life, and treatment symptoms among cancer chemotherapy outpatients. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028223

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  • owen


    June 28th, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    I will agree that after you have cancer you can look at your life and see some ways that it has changed for the better and maybe a few ways that it has changed for the worse.
    But for me the positves far outweighed the negative. I learned so much about myself after fighting cancer and learned just how strong I really can be. The financial drain was the most negative part but I am hoping that I have a lot of working years still ahead of me and that I can make some of that back up.

  • Camille Stevenson

    Camille Stevenson

    June 28th, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    I think that my mom became a little more depssed after her cancer treatment was over because she had kind of lost her identity to cancer. It was kind of like she became Hi, my name is Mary and I have breast cancer. But what happens when you go from being a patient to being a survivor? Don’t get me wrong we are all so thankful that she has beaten this and she is too, but I think that there is another part of her that had become resigned to the fact that this was what she would die from, and when that didn’t happen she had already lost sight of her plans for the future and now I am afraid that she thinks that it is too late to start over agin.

  • robert ADAMS

    robert ADAMS

    June 28th, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    Hey if I’m alive that’s good enough for me.
    If I survive a fight against cancer, then what on earth could I have to feel sorry for myself about?



    June 29th, 2012 at 1:06 AM

    I’m a college senior and a friend of mine of the same age went through chemotherapy about a year ago.He went through a lot during that period.But when he did get through it all, boy was he back with a bang!
    He was a much happier person and was thankful for everything he has more than any of us has ever been.He is having a better experience overall with the treatment and I am happy to see that this is the case with the majority of people.Cheers to life.

  • Ayanna


    June 29th, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    Amen, robert ADAMS!

  • M-ily


    June 29th, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    Very nice to see that survivors go on to feel better about their lives.I think the illness acts like a wake up call to the harsh reality of a limited life and once recovered these people begin to appreciate it better than before.

  • Virginia Collins

    Virginia Collins

    July 1st, 2012 at 4:32 AM

    When I was going through my cancer treatment I had the most wonderful team of doctors and counselors working with me, giving me strength and encouragement no matter how I was feeling. They always knew exactly what I needed to stay positive because I think that they know that staying positive and motivated is crucial for any cancer patient to get the very most out of his or her treatment. I know that it is hard to slide into that depression when you find out that you have cancer. But if you are a fighter, and I am, and life means something to you, and for me it does, then you will want to fight and beat this thing so that you can get well and be someone who can then help others do the same thing. I now volunteer my time at the cancer center where I received my treatment, and it makes me feel so good seeing others who are now fighting that same fight and I can be there to cheer them on now.

  • Willie


    July 3rd, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    Physical illness can play such a huge role in how well we then feel mentally. It is so important to take care of our bodies so that we can then take care of our minds too. With that being said, it is no wonder that once patients stopped feeling so much nausea from the cancer treatments, they start to feel better emotionally and mentally as well.

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