Distress, symptom distress, and immune function in women with suspected breast cancer.

F. G. DeKeyser, J. M. Wainstock, L. Rose, P. J. Converse, W. Dooley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


PURPOSE/OBJECTIVES: To investigate distress and its association with immune function among women with suspected breast cancer. DESIGN: Prospective, descriptive, correlational study. SETTING: An outpatient breast clinic at a tertiary urban hospital. SAMPLE: A convenience sample of women who had either a fine needle aspiration or open breast biopsy for a suspicion of breast cancer. Thirty-five women comprised the study sample, 6 with malignant and 29 with benign tumors. METHODS: Data were collected at three points in time. The first time (T1) was after the physician visit when the need for breast biopsy was ascertained. The second time (T2) was 7-10 days postbiopsy, and the third time (T3) was 7-10 days after T2. At T1, T2, and T3, participants filled out the Brief Symptom Inventory (a measure of psychological distress) and the Adapted Symptom Distress Scale (a measure of symptom distress) and provided a blood sample. Demographic data also were collected at T1. Immune function was measured by serum cytokine levels of transforming growth factor beta (TGF beta) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha). MAIN RESEARCH VARIABLES: Psychological distress, symptom distress, and immune function. FINDINGS: Psychological distress scores were moderate to high. Symptom distress was either nonexistent or slight. Significant correlations between psychological distress and symptom distress were found at T2 and T3. At T2, significant relationships between psychological distress and TNF alpha and between symptom occurrence and TNF alpha were found. Psychological and symptom distress scores were significantly different between women with malignant versus benign tumors at all three times. No differences in cytokine levels were found between the groups. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest the strong effect that the diagnostic process has on psychological distress and its potential effects on immune functioning. Distress was significantly greater for women with malignant disease; however, women with benign disease continued to have elevated levels of distress. IMPLICATIONS FOR NURSING PRACTICE: Nurses should be aware of the extremely stressful nature of the diagnostic phase and should continue to provide support, knowing that this distress continues throughout this phase, particularly for women diagnosed with malignancy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1415-1422
Number of pages8
JournalOncology nursing forum
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology(nursing)


Dive into the research topics of 'Distress, symptom distress, and immune function in women with suspected breast cancer.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this