• breast cancer;
  • chronic illness;
  • holistic care;
  • psychological and social coping;
  • quality-of-life;
  • self-care

Aim.  To describe self-care practices used by women with metastatic breast cancer and to examine relationships between self-care practices and patient characteristics.

Background.  Self-care involves the voluntary use of activities to promote one’s own well-being. Individuals with advanced cancer are faced with multiple psychological and physical stressors. It is important to identify personal characteristics that are likely to influence patients’ preferred self-care strategies.

Design.  This cross-sectional descriptive study was a secondary analysis of baseline data obtained from a longitudinal intervention trial. A convenience sample of stage IV breast cancer patients (N = 173) completed self-administered questionnaires. Recruitment and data collection took place between April 2000–March 2003.

Results.  This study demonstrates a high use and variety of self-care practices in this sample of women with advanced-stage breast cancer: confiding in family and friends, spiritual practices, physical exercise, group support activities and journal writing. Multivariate logistical regression analyses revealed that functional ability and age significantly predicted participation in self-care activities. Higher levels of physical functioning were associated with use of physical exercise and lower levels of physical functioning were associated with journal writing. Additionally, younger age predicted participation in yoga/meditation, cancer retreats, cancer support and web-based programmes.

Conclusions.  Findings from this study suggest that metastatic breast cancer patients frequently engage in a variety of self-care practices that may be influenced by personal characteristics. Future clinical self-care interventions could be tailored according to patients’ characteristics, functional ability, needs and interests.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Nurses and other healthcare professionals who promote the use of self-care practices to enhance quality of life for patients with advanced stage breast cancer may find this information useful to direct patients to appropriate resources.