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Common-sense beliefs about cancer and health practices among women completing treatment for breast cancer



Objective: Following the end of adjuvant treatment, breast cancer survivors must cope with uncertainty related to the possibility of recurrence and the loss of the ‘safety net’ treatment provides. This study examined breast cancer survivors' efforts to manage uncertainty by making lifestyle changes, such as improvement in diet and exercise. We further investigated the role of women's common-sense beliefs about their cancer, as described by Leventhal's self-regulation theory, in explaining post-treatment changes.

Method: At 3 weeks and 3 months post-treatment, 79 women who received adjuvant chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy for stages 0–III breast cancer (mean age=55 years) completed assessments of changes in health practices and other behaviors. Participants also completed measures of beliefs about the causes, course, personal control, and consequences of their cancer.

Results: Survivors reported behavior changes directed toward improving physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Results further indicated that women who believed their cancer had more severe consequences and those who attributed the development of cancer or the prevention of recurrence to health behaviors or stress were most likely to report improvement in diet or physical activity and reduction in alcohol use or stress.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that breast cancer survivors are poised to make lifestyle changes after treatment ends, creating an opportune time for health promotion interventions. Understanding women's cancer beliefs could help guide the development of tailored, proactive interventions to improve the health and well-being of breast cancer survivors. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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