Perceptions of social support, seeking of social support, and psychological adjustment to breast cancer surgery

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Charles Carver - Committee Chair


Previous research indicates that women who perceive high levels of social support resources in their lives adjust better to diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer than do those who perceive lower levels of social support. Several questions have not been fully answered by that research, however, due to limitations in the design and/or measures used. This study was an attempt to move beyond certain of those limitations, by using a design that was prospective rather than retrospective, by assessing two categories of perceived social support separately (support provided by the spouse and support provided by other people), and by studying early stages of the adaptation process as well as later stages. This study examined a sample of women undergoing diagnosis and surgery for Stage I and II breast cancer. The women were interviewed at the time of their initial clinic visit, on the day before surgery, 7-10 days after surgery, and 3-months later (6-month and 12-month followups are in progress). Subjects completed a measure of social support before surgery (and also at the 3-month followup). Outcome measures included scales assessing anxiety, anger, and depression from the POMS, a measure of positive feelings (friendliness) from the POMS, and a measure of life satisfaction. As predicted, women who initially reported higher levels of social support dealt better with the stress of their situation presurgery (i.e., had lower ratings of distress emotions and higher ratings of life satisfaction) than women who perceived lower levels of social support. There was no association between social support and distress at the measurement 10 days postsurgery. The association between social support and distress reemerged, however, at the 3-month assessment. Among married women the beneficial effect of social support held only for support from spouse. Independent of these associations, reports of the tendency to seek out social support were associated with higher levels of distress. Discussion centers on how the data from this study help flesh out the picture of the nature of the cancer experience and how support from the social context helps women to deal with it.


Health Sciences, Mental Health; Women's Studies; Health Sciences, Medicine and Surgery; Psychology, Clinical

Link to Full Text


Link to Full Text