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How Does a Breast Cancer Diagnosis Affect the Psyche?

Psychology of Breast Cancer

Every year, over 230,000 women are told they have been diagnosed with breast cancer, a prospect that weighs heavily on their psychology and ability to continue functioning as before. Every year, many women are told they might not live to see their children grow, their grandchildren laugh or enjoy much of what had been placed on their bucket list.

It’s not an easy pill to swallow and the diagnosed is thrown into limbo. Life takes on new colours, less brilliant, more pronounced. The APA knows this best. The initial shock gives way to deep distress. Personal relationships are tested extensively as the long and arduous treatments begin. Chronic stress, depression and anxiety are known to become a major slice of the lives these women live.

On a more positive note, breast cancer patients go through treatments that do not cause half the physical deformities they would have 50 years ago and they are kept well-informed and part of the decision-making process which helps ease the stress placed on the brain trying to cope with the road opened before it.

2013 brought with it a myriad of studies to help prevent or treat breast cancer. Unfortunately, there were not many new innovations in protecting the psyche of the patient.

What are some typical symptoms breast cancer patients portray, having been affected psychologically?

Studies point out that some of the most common ongoing stressors are fear of recurrence, a negative change in body image and a great decrease in sexual confidence.

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• When it comes to body image, reviews have pointed out that 89% of breast cancer patients reported problems with their weight.

• When it comes to sexuality, young women under the age of 50 were found to have major problems in the area, regardless of how stable the marriage was, 52% reporting smaller problems while 28% defining this as serious. Mastectomy and possible reconstruction are top stressors alongside loss of hair due to chemotherapy, aggravated by a partner’s inability to understand what’s occurring in the woman’s psyche, low self-confidence and poorer mental health.

Weight problems would often be due to the lack of nutritional value in foods consumed by breast cancer patients after diagnosis, often seen as comfort foods, or simply eating too little if at all.

• Sleeping becomes an issue as well, the mind working in overload to ease the stressful days spent in therapy, wondering what will become of him or her, feeling social isolation and losing self-worth.

Withdrawal from friends and family is commonplace, spurred by the belief that no one can comprehend the pain and suffering the patient goes through.

• Alcohol and drug abuse become common once the patient has been diagnosed, either to prolong denial or to drown out the misery of the situation, only aggravating the cancer further.

Depression becomes a major issue that can affect mortality rates by up to 26% when suffering from milder symptoms, versus the 39% higher mortality rate when breast cancer patients are also diagnosed with major depression.

With all this said and done, breast cancer patients who undergo psychological intervention to alleviate depression and help restore a healthy mind with as few stressors connected to the disease as possible, will survive the longest.