Causal attributions, coping strategies, and adjustment to breast cancer

Cancer Nurs. 1996 Feb;19(1):20-8. doi: 10.1097/00002820-199602000-00003.


In this retrospective questionnaire study of a convenience sample of 244 Australian women, type of causal attributions and their impact on coping strategies adopted by women with breast cancer were studied in relation to women's adjustment to their illness. Although 70% of the women made attributions about their cancer's origins, these women were not significantly better adjusted than women who had not make an attribution. Of those women who had made a causal attribution, type of attribution, whether controllable or uncontrollable (based on perceptions as to the controllability/uncontrollability of the cause of the disease), determined the extent to which exhibited information-seeking behavior. In the present study, women who perceived the cause of their cancer as emanating from uncontrollable circumstances were more active in seeking information about breast cancer than women who perceived the cause of their cancer as emanating from controllable circumstances. Different types of coping strategies adopted by women were associated with adjustment. Women who rated their adjustment as excellent displayed lower levels of helplessness, made fewer changes to their social behavior, were more anxiously preoccupied with their illness, sought more alternatives to medical therapy, and exhibited more information-seeking behavior than did their less-well-adjusted counterparts. The theoretical and practical implications of these results are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Causality
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Social Adjustment*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires