Psychological effects of breast cancer

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Breast cancer claims the lives of around 40,890 in this country each year — the vast majority of them being women. It turns lives upside down. It not only brings with it the stigma of cancer and the fear of mortality that comes with it, but the stigma of there being something wrong with a part of the female or male sexuality. Men who are diagnosed with this disorder are often afraid to even share the news with others who are close to them. Many people aren’t aware that men can also be diagnosed with cancer of the breast. Women worry they’ll be forced to opt for chemotherapy and a mastectomy, which means the loss of their breasts and sometimes their hair. While these issues pale in comparison to losing our life, it’s difficult for people to come to terms with what having cancer will mean for them and how it will change the life they’re accustomed to living


There is little room for negotiation when cancer is diagnosed. A disease has overtaken the immune system. It has broken down the walls that were meant to keep it out. It has grown to a large enough proportion that the body is struggling to fight it on its own. Interventions will be necessary. Something may have to be removed — internally or externally. It will change you. There’s no doubt about that. No one goes through cancer and comes out the same person they were when they went into it. Sometimes, those changes aren’t necessarily for the better.


Certainly, no one is saying cancer will drive you into a place of insanity, but it might drive you crazy in a little less medical way. It will make you question who you are and how this happened to you. It will make you worry about your family and their likelihood to also be diagnosed. It will make you play out events over and over again in your head like sun exposure, the use of antiperspirant, and what you’ve been eating all your life. You’ll question if it was your fault. Why didn’t your mother breastfeed you longer? Is it possible that you caught this too late?

When you get done driving yourself crazy with all the introspective interrogation, you’ll need to move on. Some people will move into a place of darkness. They’ll feel like the lack on answers to those questions leaves them with nothing to work with. These people need to be reminded that they are in control. They can take back their life. They can participate in cognitive behavioral therapy to retrain their brain to focus on what they can change rather the past that they can’t. Instead of obsessing over what led them to cancer, they can focus on what can be done now to get them away from cancer.

From depression to anxiety disorders and even PTSD, people with cancer often need the help of a trained psychiatrist to help them get through the dark days of battling for their life. The stress alone could cripple even the strongest people. Between therapy and medication and the appropriate treatment for cancer, most of the people who go through breast cancer will come out of it not only in remission from a terminal illness, but with a stronger fortitude against mental illness that strengthens their resolve to relapse.


Cite this page: Danielle Bosley, "Psychological effects of breast cancer," in, January 30, 2017, (accessed September 29, 2022).