Illness perception clusters at diagnosis predict psychological distress among women with breast cancer at 6 months post diagnosis


Correspondence to: School of Psychology, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK. E-mail:



This study aimed to examine the extent to which illness perceptions and coping strategies among women diagnosed with breast cancer explain psychological distress at diagnosis and at 6 months post diagnosis relative to demographic and illness-related variables.


Women were recruited to the study shortly after diagnosis. A total of 90 women completed study materials (Illness Perception Questionnaire-Revised, the Cancer Coping Questionnaire and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) at time 1. The same questionnaires were sent approximately 6 months later to those who had consented at time 1, and completed questionnaires were returned by 72 women.


Cluster analysis was used to identify groups of respondents who reported a similar profile of illness perception scores. Regression analysis demonstrated that one of these clusters was more likely to experience psychological distress than the other both at diagnosis and at 6 months post diagnosis. Illness perception cluster membership and positive focus type coping were the most important and consistent predictors of lower psychological distress at diagnosis and at 6 months post diagnosis.


Illness perceptions remained relatively stable over the study period, and therefore we are unable to clarify whether changes in illness cognitions are associated with a corresponding change in psychological symptoms. Future research should evaluate the impact on psychological distress of interventions specifically designed to modify illness cognitions among women with breast cancer. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.