The emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming. People who undergo cancer treatment come through recovery having learned how to deal with an immense amount of stress. Some individuals cope better than others. Research examining reactions to stress in cancer survivors has provided mixed results. Several studies suggest that cancer survivors are more resilient than their healthy counterparts, due to the fact that they have faced enormous stressors during their ordeal. Other evidence implies that people who have overcome cancer are hypersensitive to life stressors as a result of being traumatized from the course of their treatment. Because stress is known to have negative physical and psychological consequences, both extremely deleterious to recovery and future health, Erin S. Costanzo of the Department of Psychiatry and Carbone Cancer Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison wanted to find out if this segment of the population was at increased risk for negative stress outcomes.
Costanzo and her colleagues examined how daily stressors would affect cancer survivors and their quality of life (QOL) based on symptoms of pain, fatigue, and depression in relation to healthy individuals. Costanzo enlisted 111 cancer survivors and had them complete daily diaries detailing their stressful interactions over the course of 8 days. Cortisol samples were taken four times each day, and the participants were assessed for physical and psychological symptoms. The results were compared to the diaries of healthy participants. The study revealed that overall, cancer survivors coped as well with daily stressors as healthy individuals. Indeed, in some instances, the cancer participants were even more resilient at overcoming minor stressors. However, there was no evidence that the experience of going through a cancer treatment protocol provided enhanced coping resources in all areas. In particular, the cancer survivors were more sensitive to interpersonal and relationship stressors than the control group. “Results also highlight the importance for researchers and clinicians to focus not only on the distress associated with the experience of cancer, but also to attend to other more modest stressors in understanding the well-being of cancer survivors,” said Costanzo. She added, “Therapeutic interventions with stress management components that target strategies for coping with everyday life demands may have an added benefit of optimizing cancer survivors’ QOL.”
Costanzo, E. S., Stawski, R. S., Ryff, C. D., Coe, C. L., & Almeida, D. M. (2012, January 23). Cancer Survivors’ Responses to Daily Stressors: Implications for Quality of Life. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027018
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