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Abstract

The experience of breast cancer in a close family member can be a major life stressor for many women as evidenced by various psychosocial and biological indicators. However, existing studies have found considerable variability in the levels of psychological distress among women with family histories of breast cancer (FHBC). Based on cognitive processing models, we examined moderating effects of recent life events on the impact of having a family member with breast cancer and psychological distress. Specifically, we hypothesized that negative recent life events would be associated with greater psychological distress and that positive recent life events would be associated with less psychological distress, and these patterns will be more prominent among women with FHBC than women without FHBC. Women with (FHBC+, N=59) and women without (FHBC−, N=94) FHBC completed measures of recent life events, cancer-specific distress (intrusion and avoidance) and general distress. Results indicated that among FHBC+ women, negative life events were associated with higher levels of breast cancer-specific intrusion and positive life events were associated with lower levels of breast cancer-specific avoidance. These results support the application of cognitive processing models for understanding variability in women's psychological adjustment to their FHBC. Psychological interventions designed to facilitate coping with negative life events and to increase the occurrence of positive events may be warranted. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.