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Fears That Breast Cancer Brings

Fear is perhaps one of the most debilitating emotions that a person can experience. It can immobilize a person, preventing them from making decisions, even when the stakes are high.

Risk Factors for Elevated Levels of Fear

Research concerning fears that women with breast cancer face has shown some interesting risk factors for fear. In the United States, a study was done that compared African American and White breast cancer patients, showing that levels of fear were different between the two groups. African American women were found to have a greater fear of death from breast cancer and were less likely to have regular mammograms compared to white women of the same age.2

Socioeconomic status and employment status were also factors that affected fear levels. Women who were unemployed or had a low socioeconomic status were more likely to have greater fear associated with their diagnosis of breast cancer. They were also more likely to feel that they were not going to get the treatment they needed, particularly if they are uninsured or underinsured.

Loss of Self-Esteem

Some women lose their self-esteem after removal of one or both of their breasts. Breast cancer is being diagnosed in younger women as a result of increased awareness. Women in their twenties or thirties often have significant fear that the scarring and changes of their physique from surgery will prevent them from finding a mate. If they are already in a relationship, they may fear that their current spouse or partner will not be physically attracted to them anymore because of the changes in their body.4 These include hair loss, weight changes, skin and nail changes. A woman’s self-image prior to the cancer diagnosis can predict her self-image during and after treatment.

Fear of Death

Fear of death is very real for breast cancer patients, especially in the case of metastatic breast cancer. This fear of death led to several more problems, including: 5

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Severe anxiety
  • Loss of independence
  • Lack of hope
  • Grief

For some women the psychological reactions to the diagnosis can be as problematic as the physical aspect of the treatment. Fear of death is found in many studies to be the number one reason that women fail to complete routine mammograms and clinical breast exams, particularly if they have had a family member or close friend that has died with breast cancer as the cause of death.

References

1 Secginli, S. (2011). Mammography Self-Efficacy Scale and Breast Cancer Fear Scale: Psychometric Testing of the Turkish Versions. Cancer Nursing .

2 Phillips, J., Cohen, M., & Moses, G. (1999). Breast cancer screening and African American women: fear, fatalism, and silence. Oncology Nursing Forum , 561-571.

3 Kash, K. M., Holland, J. C., Halper, M. S., & Miller, D. G. (1992). Psychological Distress and Surveillance Behaviors of Women With a Family History of Breast Cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute , 24-30.

4 Ganz, P. A. (2008). Psychological and Social Aspects of Breast Cancer. Oncology .

5 Svensson, H., Brandberg, Y., Einbeigi, Z., et al. (2009). Psychological Reactions to Progression of Metastatic Breast Cancer-An Interview Study. Cancer Nursing , 55-63.

This article was originally published on July 27,2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/2/2015.