Emotional and behavioral reactions of partners as perceived by women undergoing treatment for breast cancer: Relationships to psychological distress and psychosexual adjustment

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Charles S. Carver - Committee Chair


This study investigated one aspect of the breast cancer experience: the relationship between the patient's perception of her partner's reaction to her surgery and recovery and her own psychological and psychosexual adjustment. The study was exploratory, with a prospective design that followed the course of treatment from diagnosis through the first year after surgery. Subjects included forty-nine women diagnosed with Stage I and II breast cancer. The women in the sample were largely non-Hispanic White, of higher socioeconomic and educational levels, and had no premorbid history of psychological difficulties. Predictor variables included aspects of the sexual relationship, partner reaction to the scar, partner involvement in the treatment decisions and hospital stay, and emotional support offered by the partner. Outcome variables included measures of disruption in the sense of attractiveness, emotional distress, and marital satisfaction. Variables found to be associated with aspects of adjustment at some point during the year included the quality of the first sexual experience after surgery, the extent the partner initiated sexual relations, the extent that the partner appeared bothered by the incision, and the amount of emotional support offered by the partner. Overall, there was no difference in the adjustment of women who underwent single mastectomy as compared to lumpectomy. As a group, the subjects reported relatively high levels of partner support and marital satisfaction and moderately low levels of emotional distress. While the overall lack of dysfunction is encouraging, care should be taken in generalizing the conclusions of this study to women of other ethnic groups or socioeconomic levels, to women with histories of premorbid psychological difficulties, or to women with more advanced cancers.


Psychology, Clinical; Psychology, Personality

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