Breast Cancer and Stress Heightening


Effective stress management and coping patient education rests upon the thorough understanding of pertinent psychological theories and defense mechanisms. Breast cancer is a condition that creates a state of heightened stress associated with the disease discovery, treatment, and the necessity to deal with its consequences (Potthoff et al., 2013). This paper aims to discuss three educational interventions that can help patients to manage their stressful experiences.

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A healthcare professional should encourage their patients to keep stress diaries as a means of coping with stress (Sharma & Romas, 2012). Such diaries can help patients to increase their adherence rates to self-care behaviors. In addition, individuals under the influence of negative stressful events are not always capable of properly assessing their stress profiles. Therefore, they need to keep a record of their stress sources, time and place of stress triggers, stress levels, and strategies they use to overcome initial stress responses (Olpin & Hesson, 2015).

Another method that can be effectively used by patients in their stress management endeavors is progressive muscular relaxation (PMR). The technique presupposes systematical contraction and relaxation of different muscle fibers in order to achieve a heightened sense of relaxation and awareness (Seaward, 2014). The effectiveness of PMR in reducing stress levels of breast cancer patients has been shown in a randomized controlled trial conducted by Potthoff et al. (2013).

To ensure that patients are well-equipped with stress coping methods and technics, they should be recommended to join support groups. It has been long established that social support plays a key role in a person’s ability to manage stress. A study on advanced breast cancer survival rates reveals that women who regularly visit support groups live 18 months longer than their counterparts who utilize other coping strategies (Aldwin, 2012). Therefore, by embedding themselves in professional social support structures, patients will be able to improve their coping efficacy.

Social Cognitive Theory

The application of social cognitive theory can immensely benefit breast cancer patients. The theory has been introduced in the field of cancer survivorship after the condition had been reconsidered as a chronic health concern rather than an acute one (Hoffman, Lent, & Raque-Bogdan, 2013). Under social cognitive theory, coping appraisals are regarded as constructs that can be changed, thereby improving a patient’s well-being (Sharma & Romas, 2012). However, upon taking control of their meaning-making mechanisms, breast cancer patients who are confronted with their disease should utilize problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies.

Problem-focused coping approaches are aimed at the elimination of a problem, which might manifest in information gathering and treatment decisions (Hoffman et al., 2013). Some patients tend to resolve the stressor by seeking second opinions. Emotion-focused coping approaches should always follow problem-based strategies because uncontrolled emotional reactions can substantially disrupt patients’ lives. Positive appraisal, reframing, and reassessment of goals and roles have been found to be effective in decreasing stress in breast cancer survivors (Hoffman et al., 2013). Therefore, it can be argued that the application of the theoretical perspective to breast cancer-related coping efficacy should be explored by forward-looking healthcare professionals.


The ability to deal with life-threatening events such as breast cancer is essential for both patients’ well-being and survival. Therefore, healthcare professionals should take different educational approaches to stress management education, thereby achieving positive health outcomes for their patients. The paper has argued that stress diaries, PMR, and support groups can be effectively used to increase the coping efficacy of breast cancer survivors.

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Aldwin, C. M. (2012). Stress, coping, and development (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guliford Press.

Hoffman, M. A., Lent, R. W., & Raque-Bogdan, T. L. (2013). A social cognitive perspective on coping with cancer: Theory, research, and intervention. The Counselling Psychologist, 41(2), 240-267.

Olpin, M., & Hesson, M. (2015). Stress management for life: A research-based experiential approach. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Potthoff, K., Schmidt, M. E., Wiskemann, J., Hof, H., Klassen, O., Habermann, N.,… Steindorf, K. (2013). Randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effects of progressive resistance training compared to progressive muscle relaxation in breast cancer patients undergoing adjuvant radiotherapy: The BEST study. BMC Cancer, 13, 162.

Seaward, B. L. (2014). Managing stress: Principles and strategies for health and well-being (8th ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Sharma, M., & Romas, J. A. (2012). Theoretical foundations of health education and health promotion (2nd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

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