Objective vs. Perceived Life Threat in the Adjustment to Cancer

By Comeaux, Natashia; Dempsey, Allison | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, March/April 2010 | Go to article overview
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Objective vs. Perceived Life Threat in the Adjustment to Cancer


Comeaux, Natashia, Dempsey, Allison, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


Diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, such as cancer, is related to increased symptoms of posttraumatic stress and decreased perceptions of quality of life. To better understand the experience of psychological distress among individuals diagnosed with cancer, factors affecting the relationship between diagnosis and distress need to be identified. Though previous research has investigated the association between severity of illnesses and the experience of psychological distress, Laubmeier and Zakowski (2004) hypothesized that a patient's subjective appraisal of illness severity is more strongly related to distress than objective indices of illness severity (e.g., cancer stage). To test this hypothesis, they investigated the role of perceived life threat (PLT) - a patient's interpretation of the severity of the health condition - on reports of psychological distress and quality of life (QOL). Additionally, they examined the mediating role of cognitive factors associated with posttraumatic stress (illness-related intrusive thoughts and avoidance) on the hypothesized relationship between PLT and distress/QOL.

Participants were 97 adult oncology patients (diagnosed within the past 5 years) with varying types and stages of cancer. The major demographic groups were Caucasian (96%), female (66%), married (67%), and with some college education (68%). Participants completed various measures of psychological functioning and medical illness characteristics, and provided consent for medical chart review for information verification. Analyses revealed that neither participant demographic characteristics nor medical characteristics were significantly associated with outcome measures (psychological distress and QOL), and so the variables were not controlled for in analyses testing study hypotheses. Results indicated that PLT was more strongly related to psychological distress and perceived quality of life than objective indicators of illness severity.

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Objective vs. Perceived Life Threat in the Adjustment to Cancer
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