Is there an upside to a cancer diagnosis? New research suggests the answer may be yes for some breast cancer survivors. The study, by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, found that being diagnosed with breast cancer is certainly an extremely stressful experience, but it can also trigger positive personal growth and improved quality of life.
The federally funded researcher, published online in the journal Psycho-Oncology, found many breast cancer survivors report improved interpersonal relationships, increased appreciation for life, a sense of increased personal strength, greater spirituality, and changes in life priorities or goals that were triggered by the diagnosis.
"Many women who have breast cancer often experience distress but sometimes are surprised that they also may experience a variety of positive outcomes following diagnosis," said lead researcher Suzanne Danhauer, associate professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest Baptist.
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For the study, Danhauer and her colleagues examined changes in the lives and outlooks of more than 650 breast cancer survivors in the two years after they were diagnosed. The researchers assessed positive psychological changes using surveys that assess standard measures of such factors after a traumatic experience.
The results showed scores increased for most women over time, mostly within the first few months following diagnosis. Those who experienced an increased amount of social support reported the most post-traumatic growth.
"Our findings suggest that there are women who see a variety of positive changes during and after breast cancer treatment," Danhauer said. "Our study showed just how common it is for women to talk about the good things that have happened in their lives because of this illness, and it doesn't seem to be related to how optimistic a person is or not."
"Increased resources clearly help patients process what they are dealing with and feel supported, rather than feeling like they can't talk about their illness. For doctors and other health care providers, being open to hearing about what their patients are experiencing, including distress and unexpected positive outcomes, can be very beneficial."
The study was funded, in part, by the National Cancer Institute.
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