Date Published: 11 November 2005
Women handle second breast cancer diagnosis surprisingly well
Researchers at Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC) have found that women whose breast cancer returned after remission tended to react to the recurrence in much the same way they did to their initial diagnosis.
Patients whose breast cancer had returned were not nearly as distressed as physicians may have previously thought, even though they normally expect patients to be devastated. The study, published in a recent issue of the journal Cancer, found that women were able to maintain their quality of life despite the difficult news.
"We found that the level of stress is equivalent to the initial diagnosis," said lead author Barbara Andersen, a member of the OSUCCC and professor in the department of psychology at The Ohio State University. Andersen is the principal investigator of the Stress and Immunity Breast Cancer Project, a 10-year clinical study centered at Ohio State that examines 227 women with Stage II or Stage III breast cancer.
Within this randomized clinical trial, the women were assessed after their initial diagnosis and surgery and before the start of radiation treatments or chemotherapy. They were reassessed every six months for five years, and then annually. Specifically, women in the study were randomly placed into two categories: those who received psychological intervention and those who did not. Those who received intervention met in small groups of eight to 10 women, along with two therapists, who taught them stress-reduction and progressive muscle-relaxation techniques. The support groups met weekly for 18 weeks, followed by eight monthly meetings.
Eight years into the trial, cancer had recurred in 13% (30) of the women. The study found that those patients who reacted better to the initial diagnosis had a similar reaction when told the cancer had returned. The study indicates that patients don't necessarily fall apart emotionally when confronted with a second bout of cancer.
" Clearly, patients are stressed by this bad news. But they don't seem to have major depression or disruption in their quality of life. It's too early to say whether psychological intervention reduces the risk for recurrence, but we have gotten important insights into stress and immunity," Andersen said.
" Dr. Andersen's study is a critical piece in understanding the psychological impact of breast cancer in women and how best to treat this aspect of the disease,"
said Dr. Michael A. Caligiuri, director of the OSUCCC. " This is another example of how our cancer patients at the James Cancer Hospital receive true comprehensive care."
Andersen's study found that women dealing with recurrence, despite being understandably upset, are able to compartmentalize the stress rather than letting it disrupt their entire lives.
" In some ways, the second time around may be easier for cancer patients, as they know both what to expect as well as the healthcare system they are about to be immersed in again," Andersen said.
" The patients already know the oncologists and clinical staff and their families are better prepared in terms of knowing what treatment options might follow."
Source(s): Ohio State University Medical School, USA.