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One-fifth of stem cell transplantation patients develop PTSD



Approximately one-fifth of patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), based on a retrospective analysis.

Patient factors at time of transplantation, such as low quality of life and high anxiety, predicted PTSD 6 months later, reported lead author Sarah Griffith, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, who presented findings as part of the American Society of Clinical Oncology virtual scientific program.

“We know that patients admitted for HSCT are often isolated in the hospital for a prolonged period of time, usually about 3-4 weeks, and that they endure substantial toxicities that impact both their physical and psychological well-being,” Dr. Griffith said. “We also know from the literature that HSCT can be considered a traumatic event and that it may lead to clinically significant PTSD symptoms.” But studies evaluating the prevalence and characteristics of PTSD in this patient population have been lacking, she noted.

Dr. Griffith and her colleagues therefore conducted a retrospective analysis involving 250 adults with hematologic malignancies who underwent autologous or allogeneic HSCT during clinical trials conducted from 2014 to 2016. Median patient age was 56 years.

The first objective of the study was to measure the prevalence of PTSD. The second was to characterize features of PTSD such as intrusion, which entails reliving experiences in the form of nightmares or flashbacks, and hypervigilance, which encompasses insomnia, irritability, and hyperarousal for threat. The third objective was to determine risk factors at baseline.

At time of admission for HSCT, after 2 weeks of hospitalization, and again 6 months after transplantation, patients were evaluated using the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy–Bone Marrow Transplant (FACT-BMT), and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), which measured of quality of life, anxiety, and depression. Six months after HSCT, patients also underwent screening for PTSD with the Post-Traumatic Stress Checklist (PTSD-CL). Multivariate regression models were used to determine predictive risk factors.

Six months after HSCT, 18.9% of patients had clinically significant PTSD symptoms; most common were symptoms of avoidance (92.3%), hypervigilance (92.3%), and intrusion (76.9%). Among those who did not have clinically significant PTSD, almost one-quarter (24.5%) demonstrated significant hypervigilance, while 13.7% showed symptoms of avoidance.

“Clinically significant PTSD symptoms are common in the transplant population,” Dr. Griffith said.

Baseline predictors of PTSD included single status and lower quality of life. More severe PTSD was predicted by single status, younger age, higher baseline scores for anxiety or depression, and increased anxiety during hospitalization.

Concluding her presentation, Dr. Griffith said that the findings, while correlative and not causative, should prompt concern and intervention.

“It is very important to be aware of and to manage PTSD symptoms in these patients,” she said. “There are several baseline factors that can be identified prior to HSCT that may illuminate patients at risk for developing worse PTSD symptoms down the road, and these patients may benefit from tailored supportive care interventions.”

Specifically, Dr. Griffith recommended integrating palliative care into hospitalization, as this has been shown to reduce anxiety.

In a virtual presentation, invited discussant Nirali N. Shah, MD, of the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md., highlighted the importance of the findings, while also noting that the impact of palliative care on risk of PTSD has yet to be demonstrated.

Dr. Shah suggested that future research may be improved through use of a formal diagnosis for PTSD, instead of a PTSD checklist, as was used in the present study.

“And certainly long-term follow-up would be important to evaluate the utility of this tool looking at symptoms beyond 6 months,” she said.

Dr. Shah went on to discuss the relevance of the findings for pediatric populations, as children may face unique risk factors and consequences related to PTSD.

“[PTSD in children] may be impacted by family dynamics and structure,” Dr. Shah said. “Children may also have significant neurocognitive implications as a result of their underlying disease or prior therapy. They may experience chronic pain as they go out into adulthood and long-term survivorship, and may also struggle with symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

According to Dr. Shah, one previous study involving more than 6,000 adult survivors of childhood cancer found that PTSD was relatively common, with prevalence rate of 9%, suggesting that interventional work is necessary.

“Applying the data in the study from Griffith et al. suggests that evaluation in the more proximal posttransplant period for children is needed to specifically evaluate PTSD and symptoms thereof, and to try to use this to identify an opportunity for intervention,” Dr. Shah said.

“Pediatric-specific assessments are essential to optimally capture disease and/or age-specific considerations,” she added.

The study was funded by the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society. The investigators disclosed additional relationships with Vector Oncology, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Gaido Health/BCG Digital Ventures.

SOURCE: Griffith et al. ASCO 2020. Abstract # 7505.

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