Objective: The present study investigated relations between reported childhood abuse and recent traumatic stress symptoms in women newly diagnosed with breast cancer (n=330).
Methods: As part of a larger ongoing study, patients from eight public and private hospitals were referred by their physicians and completed the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ), and the Impact of Events Scale-breast cancer (IES), which measured breast cancer-related intrusive and avoidant symptoms.
Results: Emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse were correlated with intrusive symptoms. Cancer-related avoidant symptoms approached significance in their relation to emotional and sexual abuse. Multivariate analysis, controlling for age and time since diagnosis, revealed that childhood emotional abuse was an independent predictor of breast cancer-related intrusive symptoms, but that childhood physical abuse and sexual abuse were not significant predictors.
Conclusions: Childhood emotional, physical, and sexual abuse were associated with breast cancer-related intrusive symptoms. Emotional abuse uniquely predicted intrusive symptoms after controlling for other predictors. Results suggest that a cancer diagnosis may trigger cognitive and emotional responses that relate to patients' prior trauma experiences.
Practice implications: Physicians and psychologists treating women with breast cancer should be aware that a history of childhood abuse may exacerbate patients' cancer-related intrusive symptoms. Interventions for women affected by both childhood abuse and breast cancer may be most effective when they address both stressors and associated emotional responses. Findings highlight the importance of additional research to explore links between prior trauma and distress following a cancer diagnosis stress.
Rachel Goldsmith et al 2010