Psychiatric disorder in women with early stage and advanced breast cancer: a comparative analysis


  • David W. Kissane,

    Corresponding author
      David W. Kissane, Chairman (Correspondence)
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  • Brenda Grabsch,

  • Anthony Love,

  • David M. Clarke,

  • Sidney Bloch,

  • Graeme C. Smith

  • David W. Kissane, Chairman (Correspondence)

    Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 1275 York Avenue, New York, New York 10021, USA. Email:

    Brenda Grabsch, Senior Research Officer

    Centre for Palliative Care, Department of Medicine, University of Melbourne, St Vincent's Hospital, Victoria, Australia

    Anthony Love, Associate Professor

    School of Psychological Science, LaTrobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia

    David M. Clarke, Associate Professor; Graeme C. Smith, Professor

    Department of Psychological Medicine, Monash Medical Centre, Clayton, Victoria, Australia

    Sidney Bloch, Professor

    Department of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne, St Vincent's Hospital, Victoria, Australia

David W. Kissane, Chairman (Correspondence)


Objective:  To assess psychosocial morbidity in women with breast cancer and to compare the differential rates between women with early stage and advanced disease.

Method:  In this report, 303 women with early stage breast cancer, psychiatrically assessed at baseline (as part of a study of cognitive-existential group therapy during adjuvant chemotherapy), are compared with 200 women with advanced breast cancer (similarly assessed in a trial of supportive-expressive group therapy). A structured psychiatric interview plus self-report measures were used to assess psychiatric morbidity, quality of life and cognitive attitude to cancer.

Results:  The early stage patients, whose mean age was 46 years, were on average 3 months post-surgery and had an overall prevalence of DSM-IV psychiatric diagnosis of 45%. The metastatic patients, whose mean age was 51 years, were on average 63 months post-primary diagnosis and had an overall prevalence of DSM-IV diagnosis of 42%; the difference between the two rates was not statistically significant. Of women with early stage breast cancer, 36.7% had mood disorders, 9.6% suffering from major depression and 27.1% from minor depression. In the metastatic sample 31% had mood disorders, 6.5% having major depression and 24.5% with minor depression. Anxiety disorders were present in 8.6% of the early stage group and 6% of women with advanced disease. Fatigue, a past history of depression, and cognitive attitudes of helplessness, hopelessness or resignation were significantly associated with depression in both groups. The women from the metastatic sample were significantly less distressed by hair loss but more dissatisfied with body image, and had higher rates of lymphoedema and hot flushes than the early stage women.

Conclusions:  The rates of psychosocial distress are high, and similar, across patients with both early and advanced stage breast cancer, although the illness related causes of distress are different. These data present a challenge to clinical services to provide a comprehensive range of support services to ameliorate this distress.