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Ib Extended Essay: Psychological Responses of Living with Breast Cancer

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IB EXTENDED ESSAY: Psychological responses

to living with breast cancer

By: Farhan Ishraq


Word count: 3,828


Every one out of eight women under the age of 85 will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States. It is estimated that more than 230,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will emerge in the U.S., of which, approximately 30,000 will die. Studies indicate that 50% to 90% of these cancer patients experience some level of anxiety and distress after their diagnosis. Breast cancer is a form of cancer that occurs when the developing cells in breast grow abnormally. These cells will replicate uncontrollably and eventually forming a malignant tumor that could potentially affect other parts of the body like the liver and bones. There are various factors that contribute to the diagnosis of breast cancer.

There is strong evidence that indicates breast cancer patients endure some level of psychological distress that may lead to other debilitating choices and may pose a threat to their health throughout their lifetime. There also is a correlation between a patient's psychological responses to living with breast cancer and their race, age, social class, heredity, and religious belief. The most common psychological responses after being diagnosed with breast cancer include depression, anxiety, anger, hopelessness, and denial. Some people may even change in personality and improve their lives in certain ways while others stay the same. This paper addresses what conditions help provoke breast cancer and what are the psychological consequences associated with living with the disease?

Psychological Responses to Living with Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer affecting women in the United States. The most predominant causes of being diagnosed with breast cancer are aging, family history, and lifestyle choices. 80-85% of breast cancer incidents occur in women without any previous family history of the disease but rather due to the aging process. Mutations in BRCAI and BRCAII genes are passed on to individuals causing breast cancer from generation to generation. Other cases in the U.S. involve lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking, or Poor living conditions that may also provoke breast cancer. Almost 50% of breast cancer patients will face depression at some point in their lives that may potentially lead them to make poor decisions and exacerbate their condition. It is very difficult for patients to adjust to their lifestyles and often need help or support to make the transition to living a healthier lifestyle.

An important factor that increases someone's risk of acquiring breast cancer is the presence of the BRCA1 and BRCAII genes in their family tree. BRCA1 and BRCAII stand for (BReast CAncer susceptibility gene 1 and BReast CAncer susceptibility gene II). Women with these two genes in their family tree have a significantly higher, up to 80%, chance of developing breast cancer. Everyone possesses the BRCAI and BRCAII genes that function to keep normal cell growth in breasts. Mutations within these genes that are hereditary may lead to HBOC or Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer disorder. The patient may develop cancer at an early age due to this disorder and should get mammograms or other screening tests in order to detect and prevent further stages of the disease.

Heredity is also one crucial factor to consider that may affect a patient's psychological response to the diagnosis of breast cancer. 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are due to someone having it in their previous family history. A person that is more likely to be expecting the disease is ready to cope with it if they are aware that someone in their previous generation also had the disease. These women are 80% more susceptible to acquiring breast cancer than other populations are so they receive mammograms or other cancer screening tests to detect early stages of the disease. Although they may feel stress, anxiety, and even depression through different stages from diagnosis to treatment, they usually recover quickly and lead more active lifestyles learning to cope with their disorder through counseling, family support, and other means.

It is a fact that 85% of women that have breast cancer do not have any family history of the disease meaning they do not inherit the mutations for their genes. This may be even more critical regarding their psychological health from their diagnosis, treatment, to recovery stage because these women are apprehensive and stressed by the level of uncertainty concerning their health. The diagnosis may be a complete surprise to these women since they face new challenges that may interfere with different aspects their lives. These women are very emotionally sensitive to this issue and perceive that they are no longer normal members of society and believe that they will be treated differently.

Another significant factor to consider that may contribute to the psychological response of a patient diagnosed with breast cancer is their chance of survival. If a patient diagnosed with a far more advanced stage such as stage IV breast cancer has only a 15% chance of survival while another patient diagnosed with an earlier form such as stage I breast cancer and has 88% chance of survival, then the psychological reactions of both patients may differ. Most patients with stage I breast cancer would feel some stress at the time of diagnosis towards treatment but is more optimistic through coping mechanisms and therapy afterwards. Most patients with stage IV breast cancer on the other hand would feel severe stress and anxiety accompanied by depression as they lose all hope for treatment and survival. The stage I patient would have a more positive outlook since their five year survival rate would be at 100% meaning that they would have time to enhance their lifestyle and progress towards becoming cancer free. Whereas the patient with stage IV breast cancer would have a significantly lower 20% five year chance of survival leading them to making even poorer decisions. They could experience a drastic change



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