Looking forward and back: Distress among women at familial risk for breast cancer

  • Joel Erblich
  • Dana H. Bovbjerg
  • Heiddis B. Valdimarsdottir
Empirical Articles


Healthy women with family histories of breast cancer in a first-degree relative (FH+) have been reported to exhibit higher levels of breast cancer-related distress than women without family histories of breast cancer (FH−). Recent data suggest that this may be particularly true for women who had parent die of cancer. In live with theories emphasizing the psychological impacts of past stressors and concerns for the future, the present study examined the hypotheses that past cancer stressors (i.e. maternal breast cancer caregiving and death, “Looking Back”) and perceptions of one’s own heightened future risk for developing the disease (“Looking Forward”) would predict current levels of distress. One hundred forty-eight healthy women (57 FH+, 91 FH−) recruited from large medical centers in the New York City area completed measures of breast cancer-related distress, general psychological distress, and items assessing whether or not they had taken care of their mother with breast cancer or had had their mother die from the disease. Consistent with previous research, results indicated that FH+ women whose mothers had died of breast cancer had significantly higher breast cancer-related distress than either FH+ women whose mothers had not died of breast cancer or FH−women (p<.05). Further analyses revealed that FH+ women who had cared for their mothers with breast cancer had higher cancer-related distress than women who did not (p<.01), and that FH+ women whose experience included both caregiving and the death of their mother from breast cancer had the highest levels of cancer-related distress (p<.01) and depressive symptoms (p<.05). Findings also indicated that FH+ women with heightened perceptions of risk for breast cancer had higher levels of distress, independent of past stressors. These findings suggest that psychosocial interventions for women with family histories of breast cancer might be appropriately focused on these issues.


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Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel Erblich
    • 1
  • Dana H. Bovbjerg
    • 1
  • Heiddis B. Valdimarsdottir
    • 1
  1. 1.Biobehavioral Medicine Program, Cancer Prevention and Control, Ruttenberg Cancer CenterMount Sinai School of MedicineNew York

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