Purpose: Expressing emotions and finding benefits regarding stressful experiences have been associated in correlational research with positive adjustment. A randomized trial was performed to compare effects of experimentally induced written emotional disclosure and benefit finding with a control condition on physical and psychological adjustment to breast cancer and to test whether outcomes varied as a function of participants' cancer-related avoidance.
Patients and methods: Early-stage breast cancer patients completing medical treatment were assigned randomly to write over four sessions about (1) their deepest thoughts and feelings regarding breast cancer (EMO group; n = 21), (2) positive thoughts and feelings regarding their experience with breast cancer (POS group; n = 21), or (3) facts of their breast cancer experience (CTL group; n = 18). Psychological (eg, distress) and physical (perceived somatic symptoms and medical appointments for cancer-related morbidities) outcomes were assessed at 1- and 3-month follow-ups.
Results: A significant condition x cancer-related avoidance interaction emerged on psychological outcomes; EMO writing was relatively effective for women low in avoidance, and induced POS writing was more useful for women high in avoidance. Significant effects of experimental condition emerged on self-reported somatic symptoms (P =.0183) and medical appointments for cancer-related morbidities (P =.0069). Compared with CTL participants at 3 months, the EMO group reported significantly decreased physical symptoms, and EMO and POS participants had significantly fewer medical appointments for cancer-related morbidities.
Conclusion: Experimentally induced emotional expression and benefit finding regarding early-stage breast cancer reduced medical visits for cancer-related morbidities. Effects on psychological outcomes varied as a function of cancer-related avoidance.