Distress Disorder Histories Relate to Greater Physical Symptoms Among Breast Cancer Patients and Survivors: Findings Across the Cancer Trajectory

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Background: Psychological disorders can substantially worsen physical symptoms associated with breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, reducing survivors’ quality of life and increasing recurrence risk. Distress disorders may be particularly detrimental given their physical correlates. Across two studies, we examined the relationship between a distress disorder history and physical symptoms pre- and post-adjuvant treatment — two important periods of the cancer trajectory.

Methods: Breast cancer patients awaiting adjuvant treatment (n = 147; mean age = 52.54) in study 1 and survivors 1–10 years post-treatment (n = 183; mean age = 56.11) in study 2 completed a diagnostic interview assessing lifetime presence of psychological disorders. They also rated their pain, fatigue, physical functioning, and self-rated health. Covariates included body mass index, age, cancer stage, menopause status, and physical comorbidities.

Results: Results from both studies indicated that a distress disorder history was associated with higher pain, fatigue, and sleep difficulties as well as lower self-rated health compared to those without such a history.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that breast cancer survivors with a distress disorder may be particularly at risk for more physical symptoms, poorer sleep, and worse self-rated health both prior to and following adjuvant treatment.

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International Journal of Behavioral Medicine

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