A biobehavioral model of cancer stress and disease course

Am Psychol. 1994 May;49(5):389-404. doi: 10.1037//0003-066x.49.5.389.


Approximately 1 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year and must cope with the disease and treatments. Many studies have documented the deteriorations in quality of life that occur. These data suggest that the adjustment process is burdensome and lengthy. There is ample evidence showing that adults experiencing other long-term stressors experience not only high rates of adjustment difficulties (e.g., syndromal depression) but important biologic effects, such as persistent downregulation of elements of the immune system, and adverse health outcomes, such as higher rates of respiratory tract infections. Thus, deteriorations in quality of life with cancer are underscored if they have implications for biological processes, such as the immune system, relating to disease progression and spread. Considering these and other data, a biobehavioral model of adjustment to the stresses of cancer is offered, and mechanisms by which psychological and behavioral responses may influence biological processes and, perhaps, health outcomes are proposed. Finally, strategies for testing the model via experiments testing psychological interventions are offered.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Cost of Illness
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Quality of Life
  • Sick Role*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*