An investigation of the relationship between stress and control orientation on susceptibility to breast cancer

Brenda J. Nahill-Duberstein (1990)

This is a retrospective study of the relationship between stress and locus of control on susceptibility to breast cancer. The researcher compared a "Cancer Group" of 10 pre-menopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer within the last six months with two control groups--a "Medical Group" and a "Healthy Group." To control for the effects of a potentially lethal illness like breast cancer on one's perceptions of past stressors, a Medical Group was selected which consisted of a matched group of 10 women who had received medical treatment for a relatively minor illness within the last six months, had no known psychosomatic or chronic illnesses, and had never been diagnosed with cancer. The Healthy Group was composed of a matched group of 10 pre-menopausal women who were considered essentially healthy in that they had received no medical treatment for six months, had no known chronic or psychosomatic illnesses, and had never been diagnosed with cancer. The researcher hypothesized that the breast cancer patients would report having experienced significantly higher levels of stress prior to their diagnosis than the two control groups. Because the subjects' were asked to respond about experiences in the past, there was some possibility that their perceptions of past stress levels might have been colored by present day stressors. Therefore, the researcher administered two measures of stress. One measure, the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, is more objective and less affected by the retrospective nature of the study. The other measure, the Derogatis Stress Profile, examines interactional aspects of stress. The Locus of Control Scale was used to examine a second hypothesis that the Cancer Group would have a significantly greater tendency toward an external locus of control orientation than the control groups. The results showed a significant relationship between membership in the three groups and performance on the two measures of stress. Specifically, the Cancer and Medical participants reported more life event changes in the twenty-four months prior to the study. Also their overall stress profiles demonstrated both significant differences in overall stress levels, and on stress enhancing personality characteristics. Control orientation did not differentiate the groups.