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Emotional Support a Critical Part of Care for Breast Cancer Survivors


Women diagnosed with breast cancer not only face the physical challenges of the cancer and the treatment, but also often experience psychological distress and symptoms of anxiety and depression. As the American Cancer Society notes, some amount of depression, anxiety, and fear is normal, and some women are more affected than others.

Nearly one in two women with breast cancer experienced symptoms of anxiety, according to one study. Low emotional support and social isolation were associated with worse symptoms. The diagnosis may also bring on symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One study found that more than four in five women diagnosed with breast cancer have some symptoms of PTSD. In a control group of women without a breast cancer diagnosis, only one in five had any symptoms of PTSD. One year later, more than half of those with the cancer diagnosis still had some symptoms.

breast-cancer-and-mental-health.pngEven after treatment is successfully completed, women may continue to face anxiety related to the cancer returning, financial issues, or coping with life after treatment, including physical changes and relationship concerns.

Most women can benefit from some type of ongoing support. Some may prefer talking with close friends or turning to their faith community, others may benefit from cancer support groups, individual counseling or online support communities. Research has found factors associated with better coping and adjustment include older age, being married or partnered, greater self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability to succeed), better social support, less rigorous chemotherapy, and less pain. Diagnosis at a younger age is less common and more unexpected, and younger breast cancer survivors experience more psychosocial distress than middle-aged and older women.

Despite the potential mental health impacts of breast cancer, women are often not counseled about the emotional impacts it may have, according to a recent survey in England. The survey of nearly 3,000 women with breast cancer, carried out on behalf of the nonprofit Breast Cancer Care, found four in five women with breast cancer are not informed about potential mental health concerns.

The survey found that one in three women experienced anxiety for the first time with their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and about 8 percent experienced a panic attack for the first time. Women also reported feeling increasingly alone and isolated after all the appointments and treatment ended. Almost half (45 percent) of women reported experiencing ongoing fear that the cancer may return.

One survey participated noted: “I’d been so caught up in the whirlwind of treatment, I didn’t anticipate how hard moving forward would be. I felt isolated from my friends as I had no energy to go out with them… But the biggest barrier to adapting to life after breast cancer was my anxiety. I completely stopped trusting my body and lived in fear of there being something wrong with me.”

If you’re looking for support for yourself or a loved one, the American Cancer Society can help you find resources: 800-227-2345.


AnxietyDepressionPatients and FamiliesPTSD


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