16.02.2011 Health & Fitness

Emotional aspects of breast cancer

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A diagnosis of breast cancer can evoke many emotions, and treatment for the disease can be mentally and physically draining. Facing a life-threatening illness is stressful, and the personal nature of breast cancer can affect a woman on a basic level of femininity. Addressing both the physical and emotional aspects of breast cancer can help with overall wellness.

Higher Stress Levels
The diagnosis of a serious illness such as breast cancer can produce a number of stressors. It can be an overwhelming time due to all the doctors' appointments, waiting for test results, uncertainty about the future and mounting medical bills.

Stress can manifest itself physically as headaches, fatigue, body aches, anxiety or irritability and sleep disturbances, says the Cleveland Clinic.

Various remedies for stress can include relaxing to music, deep breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback and counseling. Talking to a health care team when stress levels increase can help individuals control their emotions. The American Cancer Society states that nearly everyone going through cancer diagnosis and treatment can benefit from some kind of support, whether it is in the form of individual or group counseling, peer discussion groups or health education sessions.

Body Image
Treatment for breast cancer, whether it involves a biopsy, lumpectomy, mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy or a mixture of these treatments, can alter the appearance of the body and have an impact on body image. Looking at the body and seeing the loss of hair or a breast can be upsetting. suggests that individuals ease into the idea of looking at their changed bodies. In private, cancer sufferers can look at themselves dressed in their favorite outfits and list things they like, repeating this activity when wearing lingerie and then when fully nude. For those who are self-conscious about their partners seeing their changed body, communication or even meeting with a therapist can help both parties through a difficult and delicate time, says

Depression and Anxiety
A cancer diagnosis can bring feelings of grief and loss as well as uncertainty about everything that once seemed logical and orderly. According to the American Cancer Society, up to one in four individuals living with cancer is also struggling with clinical depression. Symptoms can include: persistent sad or empty feelings for much of the day; loss of interest or pleasure in activities; extreme fatigue and loss of energy; feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness; sleep disturbances and thoughts of death or suicide. While some of these symptoms, such as fatigue, also appear as side effects of cancer treatment, if these symptoms persist for two or more weeks, evaluation for depression can be beneficial, says the American Cancer Society.

Along with depression, individuals might feel anxious or afraid, which is normal for someone dealing with cancer. Anxiety symptoms can include uncontrollable worrying, irritability, frequent angry outbursts and muscle tension. When symptoms start interfering with daily activities, professional help can be useful.

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