Better Coping Strategies Needed for Partners of Younger Women with Breast Cancer

Many partners and caregivers still feel anxious years after their loved one's diagnosis, according to a recent study.
Good coping strategies can help the partners of younger women with breast cancer to work through anxiety that otherwise often lingers well after the disease has been treated, according to the authors of a study presented today in advance of the 2017 Cancer Survivorship Symposium.

The study — which found that more than 40 percent of these partners remain anxious years after their loved ones’ diagnoses — underscores the importance of teaching effective coping strategies to this group of caregivers, reported lead author Nancy Borstelmann, M.P.H., M.S.W., L.I.C.S.W. Borstelmann, who said that replacing ineffective coping strategies in favor of more helpful ones would contribute to better health and quality-of-life for both partners and patients, discussed the findings in a presscast ahead of the Jan. 27-28 symposium to be held in San Diego, California.

Partners of younger adults with the disease may particularly benefit from this help, Borstelmann said, because their often demanding stage of life can make dealing with a cancer profoundly complex.
“Cancer doesn’t just happen to one person; it has an impact on the entire family,” said Borstelmann, director of social work at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. “As the number of breast cancer survivors continues to grow in the United States, interventions targeting the concerns of partners — and entire families — are needed to help them cope with the inevitable and often unanticipated changes that come with a cancer diagnosis.”
The study was an analysis of a multicenter online and mailed survey taken by 289 partners of women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40 years or younger. The partners were mostly white, college-educated, employed fathers.
They were asked to complete, just one time, the Brief COPE questionnaire, which polled them about concerns including quality of life, coping, social support, financial insecurity, partnership concerns, parenting concerns, anxiety and depression. The survey assessed how much each partner used specific healthy coping strategies, including accepting the diagnosis, positive reframing, planning and taking advantage of emotional support. Partners completed the surveys a median five years after their loved ones were diagnosed.
The primary outcome being measured was anxiety. Thirty-two percent of partners who took the survey reported at least a fair amount of relationship concern, and 42 percent reported experiencing current symptoms of anxiety.

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