Loneliness in Breast Cancer Patients with Early Life Adversity: An Investigation of the Effects of Childhood Trauma and Self-Regulation

Curr Oncol. 2023 May 18;30(5):5145-5157. doi: 10.3390/curroncol30050389.


Childhood trauma may be prevalent in the general population, and the psychosocial treatment of patients with cancer may require consideration of the effects of such early adversity on the healing and recovery process. In this study, we investigated the long-term effects of childhood trauma in 133 women diagnosed with breast cancer (mean age 51, SD = 9) who had experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect. We examined their experience of loneliness and its associations with the severity of childhood trauma, ambivalence about emotional expression, and changes in self-concept during the cancer experience. In total, 29% reported experiencing physical or sexual abuse, and 86% reported neglect or emotional abuse. In addition, 35% of the sample reported loneliness of moderately high severity. Loneliness was directly influenced by the severity of childhood trauma and was directly and indirectly influenced by discrepancies in self-concept and emotional ambivalence. In conclusion, we found that childhood trauma was common in breast cancer patients, with 42% of female patients reporting childhood trauma, and that these early experiences continued to exert negative effects on social connection during the illness trajectory. Assessment of childhood adversity may be recommended as part of routine oncology care, and trauma-informed treatment approaches may improve the healing process in patients with breast cancer and a history of childhood maltreatment.

Keywords: breast cancer; childhood trauma; loneliness; self-regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • Breast Neoplasms*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse* / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Loneliness
  • Middle Aged
  • Self-Control*

Grants and funding

This work has been supported by the University of Tabriz, International and Academic Cooperation Directorate, in the framework of the TabrizU-300 program awarded to R.H.