Main Article Content

Stress and Coping Mechanisms Among Breast Cancer Patients and Family Caregivers: A Review of Literature

KP Mukwato
P Mweemba
MK Makukula
MM Makoleka


Background: Breast cancer is the most common malignancy of women worldwide accounting for 23% of all newly diagnosed cancer cases. It is also the leading cause of cancer mortality, representing 14.1%. In Zambia, it is second to cervical cancer and its incidence is steadily increasing. A diagnosis of cancer regardless of stage is a stressful event impacting on all facets of the patient’s life and that of her family caregivers. To minimize the impact, adaptive coping mechanisms are required.
Aim of the review: The aim of the review was to gain an in-depth understanding of the stress and coping mechanisms used by breast cancer patients and family caregivers.
Materials and methods: A comprehensive review of publications for the period 1980-2010 cited on Pub Med, Hinari, British National Index, African Journal Online was undertaken. Search terms included “stress”, “coping”, “breast cancer”, “coping mechanisms”, “coping mechanisms by breast cancer patients and family care givers”.
Search Results: Of the 22 articles reviewed, 13 focused on coping with breast cancer, 5 on stress and adaptation to cancer and the last 4 on experiences of family members on care of the terminally ill. Eighteen of the 22 used solely qualitative methodology while 4 used mixed methods. Analysis of the articles revealed 4 predominant coping mechanisms for both the patient and family: (a) seeking social support, (b) reliance on God, (c) positive suggestion/attitude or re-affirmation and (d) acquisition of information and education.
Conclusions: A diagnosis of breast cancer is a stressor to both the patient and the family caregivers.Coping mechanisms/strategies are therefore required in order to adapt. 

Keywords: Breast cancer, Stress, Coping, Patient and Family caregivers

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eISSN: 0047-651X
print ISSN: 0047-651X