Chronic and episodic stress predict physical symptom bother following breast cancer diagnosis

Lauren N. Harris, Margaret R. Bauer, Joshua F. Wiley, Constance Hammen, Jennifer L. Krull, Catherine M. Crespi, Karen L. Weihs, Annette L. Stanton

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23 Citations (Scopus)


Breast cancer patients often experience adverse physical side effects of medical treatments. According to the biobehavioral model of cancer stress and disease, life stress during diagnosis and treatment may negatively influence the trajectory of women’s physical health-related adjustment to breast cancer. This longitudinal study examined chronic and episodic stress as predictors of bothersome physical symptoms during the year after breast cancer diagnosis. Women diagnosed with breast cancer in the previous 4 months (N = 460) completed a life stress interview for contextual assessment of chronic and episodic stress severity at study entry and 9 months later. Physical symptom bother (e.g., pain, fatigue) was measured at study entry, every 6 weeks through 6 months, and at nine and 12 months. In multilevel structural equation modeling (MSEM) analyses, both chronic stress and episodic stress occurring shortly after diagnosis predicted greater physical symptom bother over the study period. Episodic stress reported to have occurred prior to diagnosis did not predict symptom bother in MSEM analyses, and the interaction between chronic and episodic stress on symptom bother was not significant. Results suggest that ongoing chronic stress and episodic stress occurring shortly after breast cancer diagnosis are important predictors of bothersome symptoms during and after cancer treatment. Screening for chronic stress and recent stressful life events in the months following diagnosis may help to identify breast cancer patients at risk for persistent and bothersome physical symptoms. Interventions to prevent or ameliorate treatment-related physical symptoms may confer added benefit by addressing ongoing non-cancer-related stress in women’s lives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)875-885
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • Breast cancer
  • Life events
  • Physical symptoms
  • Stress
  • Survivorship

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