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J Psychosom Res. 2005 Apr;58(4):335-42.

A 1-year prospective study of individual variation in distress, and illness perceptions, after treatment for breast cancer.

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Section of Psychological Medicine, Gartnavel Royal Hospital, University of Glasgow Medical School, Glasgow G12 0XH, UK.



The primary objective was to conduct a detailed analysis of individual variation in psychological morbidity in the year following surgery for breast cancer. The salience of the patients' "illness perceptions" to morbidity was examined as a secondary objective.


Psychological morbidity was assessed with the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28) in a prospective study of 371 women having surgery for primary breast cancer. Patients also completed the Illness Perception Questionnaire (IPQ), Mental Adjustment to Cancer Scale (MAC) and the Eysenck Personality Scales (EPS). Assessments were made postoperatively and at 3, 6 and 12 months after surgery.


Whilst descriptive statistics indicated a general reduction in mean distress over the 12-month follow-up, close analysis showed that a quarter of all patients maintained clinically significant levels of distress throughout the period. Patients with chronically elevated distress were characterised by higher levels of neuroticism, greater symptom awareness, more pain and poorer self-rated general health. In the regression analysis, psychological morbidity across the 1-year follow-up was predicted principally by the immediate postoperative state of distress, IPQ symptom awareness and the perceived time line of the illness, general health and, to a more minor extent, by neuroticism.


There is marked individual variation in psychological morbidity in the year following breast cancer surgery, which is reliably predicted by the patient's immediate postoperative state of distress, her perception of the impact of the symptoms and the time line of the disease. Subgroups of patients with chronically high distress are characterised by factors including personality and negative perceptions and beliefs about their illness.

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