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Cancer. 2009 Sep 15;115(18 Suppl):4311-25. doi: 10.1002/cncr.24586.

Intrapersonal and interpersonal consequences of protective buffering among cancer patients and caregivers.

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  • 1School of Social Work, Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98105, USA.



Protective buffering refers to hiding cancer-related thoughts and concerns from one's spouse or partner. In this study, the authors examined the intrapersonal and interpersonal consequences of protective buffering and the motivations for such behavior (desire to shield partner from distress, desire to shield self from distress).


Eighty hematopoietic stem cell transplantation recipients and their spousal caregivers/partners completed measures that were designed to assess protective buffering and relationship satisfaction at 2 time points: before transplantation (T1) and 50 days after transplantation (T2). Overall mental health also was assessed at T2.


There was moderate agreement between 1 dyad member's reported buffering of their partner and the partner's perception of the extent to which they felt buffered. Caregivers buffered patients more than patients buffered caregivers, especially at T2. The more participants buffered their partners at T2 and the more they felt buffered, the lower their concurrent relationship satisfaction and the poorer their mental health. The latter effect was particularly true for patients who buffered and for patients who felt buffered. With respect to motivations, patients who buffered primarily to protect their partner at T1 reported increases in relationship satisfaction over time; however, when they did so at T2, their caregiver reported concurrent decreases in relationship satisfaction.


Protective buffering is costly, in that those who buffer and those who feel buffered report adverse psychosocial outcomes. In addition, buffering enacted by patients with an intention to help may prove counterproductive, ultimately hurting the object of such protection.

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