Purpose: To confirm our assumptions regarding factors that apparently cause psychological distress related to adjuvant radiotherapy in breast cancer patients and to evaluate variables that can predict therapy-associated distress.
Methods and materials: Between January 1997 and April 1998, 111 women (33-84 years) with early-stage breast cancer were irradiated (56 Gy) after breast-conserving surgery. Patients were given self-assessment questionnaires on the first and last day of radiotherapy. Statistical analysis was performed using the structural equation model LISREL, variance analysis, and regression analysis.
Results: The internal subject-related factors (coping, radiation-related anxiety, physical distress, psychological distress) reciprocally influenced each other, whereas external radiotherapy-specific factors (environmental influence, confidence in the medical staff) were causally related to coping, anxiety, and distress. Fifty-three percent of the women felt distressed because cancer affected the breast; 48% were initially afraid of radiotherapy. For 36%, anxiety was not reduced during treatment. Highly distressed women were identified by the following parameters: < or =58 years; initial anxiety; they were affected by having breast cancer, were negatively affected by environmental factors, and did not find distraction helpful.
Conclusion: Despite considerable individual variability in breast cancer patients, it seems possible to identify women who run a high risk of therapy-associated distress. In these patients, psychosocial support is necessary to reduce treatment-related anxiety and to stabilize confidence in the medical staff.