Mental Health Support Aids Those with Breast Cancer

By Rick Naurert PhD
May 14th, 2022
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.
Mental Health Support Aids Those with Breast Cancer

Sadly, close to 300,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. For many, initial reactions to learning that they have the illness include fear, anger, and denial.

Unfortunately, the feelings may escalate. Dealing with the psychological fallout of such a diagnosis can be crucial to patients’ physical recovery. As they weigh their medical options, patients also should consider their emotional and mental options.

“Breast cancer is more than skin deep. It’s not just about your external body image. It’s not just about secondary sexual characteristics. It’s not just about breasts. It’s more than that.

“The psyche and the physical body are interconnected, so you really can’t address one and not the other,” said Dr. Georita Frierson, director of Clinical Training for the Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Program at Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey.

Frierson believes breast cancer patients should consider the following, based on research she and others have conducted, as they fight their illness:

  1. Severe and acute stress may occur at the time of cancer diagnosis.

  3. Physical activity can improve mood and other outcomes in breast cancer patients following diagnosis.
  4. The acute distress accompanying diagnosis can lead to lower quality of life for cancer patients.

  6. Patients with poorer coping at time of diagnosis may report lower meaning in life in the year following the end of cancer treatments.
  7. Cancer treatments have the potential to impact intimate relationships.
  8. Patients may have body image distress following breast cancer surgeries.
  9. Treatment or recovery can disrupt one’s employment, including job loss for some.
  10. Distressed individuals can have appetite disturbances and/or dietary changes.

  12. The taste of foods may change with stress.

  14. Disturbances of taste or eating habits (e.g., food restriction or taste aversions from chemotherapy) can occur in breast cancer patients.

  16. Disturbed sleep can occur in breast cancer patients, too.

Frierson has conducted a range of research related to breast cancer and other medical topics including a pilot study of the psychosocial and behavioral outcomes in triple negative breast cancer patients during the first year of treatment.

She has been published in peer-reviewed journals on topics that include evidence-based treatment for cancer patients, emotional and psychosocial consequences of cancer, and physical activity among women treated for breast cancer. She has also contributed chapters to books on racial/ethnic minority health.

Source: Rowan University/Newswise

Dr. Rick Naurert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Naurert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.