The relationship between posttraumatic stress and posttraumatic growth among adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer patients

Brad Zebrack, Minyoung Kwak, John Salsman, Melissa Cousino, Kathleen Meeske, Christine Aguilar, Leanne Embry, Rebecca Block, Brandon Hayes-Lattin, Steve Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Objective: Theories of posttraumatic growth suggest that some degree of distress is necessary to stimulate growth; yet, investigations of the relationship between stress and growth following trauma are mixed. This study aims to understand the relationship between posttraumatic stress symptoms and posttraumatic growth in adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer patients. Method: 165 AYA patients aged 14-39 years at diagnosis completed standardized measures of posttraumatic stress and posttraumatic growth at 12 months following diagnosis. Locally weighted scatterplot smoothing and regression were used to examine linear and curvilinear relationships between posttraumatic stress and posttraumatic growth. Results: No significant relationships between overall posttraumatic stress severity and posttraumatic growth were observed at 12-month follow-up. However, curvilinear relationships between re-experiencing (a posttraumatic stress symptom) and two of five posttraumatic growth indicators (New Possibilities, Personal Strengths) were observed. Conclusion: Findings suggest that re-experiencing is associated with some aspects of posttraumatic growth but not others. Although re-experiencing is considered a symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder, it also may represent a cognitive process necessary to achieve personal growth for AYAs. Findings call into question the supposed psychopathological nature of re-experiencing and suggest that reexperiencing, as a cognitive process, may be psychologically adaptive. Opportunities to engage family, friends, cancer survivors, or health care professionals in frank discussions about fears, worries, or concerns may help AYAs re-experience cancer in a way that enhances their understanding of what happened to them and contributes to positive adaptation to life after cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)162-168
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2015


  • Adolescent
  • Posttraumatic growth
  • Posttraumatic stress
  • Psychosocial
  • Young adult

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Oncology


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