Parent-child relations, attachment, and emotional control in the development of breast cancer



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Texas Tech University


During the past two decades, the fields of behavioral oncology and psychoneuroimmunology have enhanced investigations into potential psychosocial precursors contributing to disease. Significant psychosocial findings among cancer patients, especially that of lack of closeness to parents ,a cold family atmosphere, and emotional control, have contributed to the view of eariy family relations and affective climate as important to the multifactorial origin and progression of cancer in adulthood.

A total sample of 104 women, 52 with breast cancer and 52 without cancer between the ages of 35 and 55, volunteered to participate in this study regarding psychosocial factors in women's health. The participants were compared on measures which assessed the following: parental care and control in childhood, general attachment style and emotional control in adulthood. Information as to family history of cancer and early loss were also obtained.

The most important finding of this study was that women with breast cancer scored significantly higher than did the comparison group on avoidant attachment and on emotional control. Additionally, only 27% of women in the non-cancer group experienced loss in eariy life compared with over half of the cancer group (54%). Responses to parental care and control by both mother and father yielded no significant differences between the two groups of women. Lastly, discriminant analyses revealed that emotional control and avoidant attachment were the best predictors of group classification for this sample. The results of this study support previous literature as to the importance of psychosocial factors in the development of cancer, and consideration of a multifactorial life events model for stress and illness.