In this study, the concept of ‘acute traumatic stress response’ was applied to breast cancer diagnosis. A total of 106 patients were studied before surgery, by means of a psychiatric interview and questionnaires (Impact of Event Scale, General Health Questionnaire and Clinical Global Impression Scale). The traumatic stress response was related to age, marital status, occurrence of breast cancer in first-degree relatives, previous physical and psychological health parameters, social support and life events during the last year.
Of the patients, 44% reported a high level of intrusive symptoms (mean score 17.2) and 29% of avoidance symptoms (mean score 15.0). Younger age and being married were positively correlated with intrusive symptomology while patients with a first-degree relative with breast cancer had less intrusive distress. Previous physical and psychiatric health parameters showed no association to acute traumatic stress symptoms except for those who had experienced ‘a serious illness/accident/hospitalisation last year’ who had some more avoidant symptomology. Multiple regression showed a statistically significant effect for age only on intrusive symptoms when other factors were controlled for in this analysis.