Moderators of psychological recovery from benign cancer screening results

Curr Oncol. 2012 Jun;19(3):e191-200. doi: 10.3747/co.19.935.


Objective: The sudden confrontation of a potential health threat such as cancer, even after the diagnosis turns out to be benign, can have enduring adverse psychological consequences, including persistent anxiety, cancer fears, and other manifestations of psychological distress. The present study examines factors that potentially moderate psychological recovery among women who face a breast cancer threat.

Design: Participants were adult women had just received a benign outcome from a breast cancer diagnostic procedure that had been conducted because of suspicion of breast cancer (a non-conclusive mammography or ultrasonography result, a referral from their doctor because of pain or family history, detection of a lump, a 6-month follow-up appointment after a breast abnormality from a previous screening or diagnostic procedure, or a fluid leak from one or both breasts). We measured several psychological traits at Time 1 (right after receipt of the "no cancer" feedback) and then each month for the next 3 months. Analyses examined the factors that hindered or facilitated psychological recovery from the cancer threat.

Results: Results showed that trait anxiety and family history of cancer hindered recovery and that older age and optimism facilitated recovery and lessened adverse psychological consequences. Self-regulatory strategies such as planful problem-solving, positive reappraisal, and mastery facilitated recovery.

Conclusions: Our findings shed light on the factors that are implicated in psychological recovery from a benign breast cancer outcome after a diagnostic procedure (ultrasonography, repeat or initial mammography, stereotactic biopsy, fine-needle aspiration, or ultrasound-guided biopsy). Those factors could be used to identify women who may experience prolonged psychological distress, so as to assist them when they face stressful diagnostic concerns.

Keywords: Breast neoplasms; cancer screening; coping behavior; emotional adjustment; mammography; psychological recovery.