THURSDAY, Oct. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Although a breast cancer
diagnosis can be devastating news, some women say they also go
through positive personal growth from the experience, a new study
Most people have heard of post-traumatic stress, but there also
is a centuries-old concept that's now known as "post-traumatic
growth" -- positive psychological changes a person has in response
to a major life challenge.
In the new study of nearly 700 breast cancer patients,
researchers found that, on average, women reported personal growth
in the year or so after their diagnosis. That meant anything from
having a greater appreciation of life to feeling closer to family
And it wasn't only those women with a naturally sunny
disposition who reported personal growth, said lead researcher
Suzanne Danhauer, an associate professor of public health sciences
at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, in Winston-Salem,
At the outset, the study measured the women's general tendency
to be optimistic, and it turned out that trait was not a strong
predictor of personal growth.
"This is not just about optimism," Danhauer said. "It wasn't only the women who tend to see the glass half full who reported growth."
On the other hand, women who said they were getting more support
from the people in their lives were more likely to see personal
growth in themselves.
Danhauer said it's possible that those women had more people
they could talk to about their cancer battle -- and that, in turn,
might support their ability to "grow."
Some women may also make a conscious decision to take away
something positive from their experience, said Dr. Mary Jane
Massie, a psychiatrist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center,
in New York City. Massie was not involved with the new study.
"I've been working with women with breast cancer for a few decades," Massie said. "And I've heard many women say, 'If I have to go through this, I'm going to make sure I get something good out of it.'"
The study, published online recently in the journal
Psycho-Oncology, included 653 women recently diagnosed with
breast cancer, mostly stage 1 or stage 2. The women completed a
standard questionnaire on post-traumatic growth within eight months
of their diagnosis, and then again six, 12 and 18 months later.
The questionnaire gauged people's appreciation of life, their
feelings about their personal relationships, changes in their
spirituality and their openness to new possibilities.
On average, Danhauer's team found, the women's growth scores on
the questionnaire increased over the first year after their
diagnosis, and then leveled off. And women who said their social
support increased after their diagnosis tended to show more
Of course, not everyone has family and friends to turn to,
Massie said. And some cancer patients may not want to discuss it
with the people close to them.
"Some women don't want to even tell their friends they have cancer," Massie said. "And that's OK. There's no rule that says you have to tell anyone."
But, she said, it's important for health systems to have support
groups and services in place for cancer patients who do want to
Even with that kind of support, though, people with cancer
should not feel like they're doing something wrong if they don't
attain some sense of personal growth, Danhauer said.
"I don't want to give women the impression that they shouldexperience this," she said. "We're just saying that some women do."
Danhauer said some people with cancer can feel pressured to
"think positive," and end up feeling guilty when they don't meet
Massie agreed that there is no single way a cancer patient
should feel. She added, though, that personal growth doesn't need
to be a major shift.
"It could be that you rethink your life in little ways," Massie said. "Maybe you work a little less, or spend some more time with your daughter."
As for people with other types of cancer, Danhauer said much of
the research on post-traumatic growth has focused on breast cancer.
But there have been some studies -- two recent ones found that lung
cancer survivors and young adults who'd survived childhood cancer
did, on average, report personal growth from their experience.
The American Cancer Society offers help in finding
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