A new study confirms what physicians have been saying for yea Expressing Emotions Helps Breast Cancer Patients Deal with Diagnosis, Improve Physical Health (dateline November 19, 2000) | Breast Health News | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

The Women's Health Resource. On the web since 1997.

Expressing Emotions Helps Breast Cancer Patients Deal with Diagnosis, Improve Physical Health (dateline November 19, 2000)

A new study confirms what physicians have been saying for years, that the positive expression of emotions can help breast cancer patients deal with their diagnosis and treatment and improve their health. Opening up to her spouse, family, or close friends or engaging in activities such as journal writing or artistic expression can have a significant effect on how a woman copes with breast cancer, can decrease her number of doctor visits, and can help her achieve improved overall health.

In the study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers sent two questionnaires to 92 breast cancer patients; the first was sent within 20 weeks of treatment and the other was sent three months after treatment was completed. The questions addressed several emotional aspects of a breast cancer diagnosis and included issues such as hope, social receptivity, psychological adjustment, and health status.

Researcher Annette Stanton, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, and her colleagues found that women who found positive ways to express their emotions made fewer medical appointments, had enhanced physical health and vigor, and experienced less stress than women with low levels of emotional expression.

Ways to express emotions include:

  • Talking with family members or friends
  • Talking with a clergyman or clergywoman or therapist
  • Joining a cancer support group
  • Keeping a journal
  • Artistic expression, such as drawing or painting

While expressing emotions is healthy, the researchers did find that women who tried to over-analyze their emotions became increasingly distressed after breast cancer treatment. According to Debbie Saslow, PhD, National Director of Breast and Cervical Cancer for the American Cancer Society, women who go over and over their emotions without resolving them tend to have higher stress levels than women who positively express their emotions.

The degree to which a woman is able to express her emotions depends on the individual. The National Cancer Institute offers several tips for cancer patients to help deal with the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer:

  • Focus on what you can and want to do.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of your life.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no to activities and engagements.
  • Talk about your concerns.
  • Learn to pace yourself. Don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Exercise (if your physician advises it).
  • Take time for activities you enjoy.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Laugh at least once a day.

Previous studies have found that advanced breast cancer patients who have lower stress levels live longer than patients who feel stressed and have a negative outlook on life. In fact, researchers discovered a biological marker for stress in advanced breast cancer patients that may help predict their survival. In a study reported in the June 21, 2000 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers found that patients who have abnormal levels of a steroid-like compound called cortisol in their saliva may be more likely to die from breast cancer than patients with normal cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress.

There are several organizations that can help women with the emotional aspects of a breast cancer diagnosis. The American Cancer Society (1.800.ACS.2345) has over 16,000 volunteer cancer survivors across the United States. The Cancer Information Service (1.800.4.CANCER) allows women to talk with information specialists about specific aspects of cancer. The Y-ME organization (1.800.211.2141) also has a 24-hour hot-line women may call for services and support.

Additional Resources and References