A breast cancer diagnosis often causes anxiety and depression, but an empathetic doctor can help.

Supportive communication is key to reducing patient uncertainty and promoting mental well-being, Rutgers University researchers have found.

“Our findings suggest that provider communication is a key component to reducing uncertainty, and thus providers play a key role in helping to facilitate psychological well-being,” said lead researcher Liesl Broadbridge. She’s a doctoral candidate at Rutgers School of Communication and Information in New Jersey.

Discussing uncertainties and responding with empathy to patients’ concerns is critical to their healing and recovery, according to the study authors.

“Our findings are directly applicable as targets for communication training modules for health care providers, because by continuing to advance skills in empathic communication, clinicians can enhance the health care experiences of their patients,” Broadbridge said in a Rutgers news release.

The researchers also investigated how managing psychological well-being differs during and after cancer treatment.

Current and former patients have different types of appointments, such as treatment decision-making for current patients and watchful waiting for former patients.

They have had different amounts of time to adjust to diagnoses and, potentially, have different relationships with their providers.

“Although our findings were true for both current and former patients, the strength of the relationship between uncertainty and psychological adjustment was stronger for former patients than for current patients,” Broadbridge said.

“This means that cancer care teams must continue to focus on uncertainty and issues regarding psychological health in cancer monitoring appointments and beyond the initial diagnosis/treatment phases of breast cancer survivorship,” she explained.

For the study, the investigators used online surveys and recruited about 300 current and former breast cancer patients through the Love Research Army, a research registry hosted by the Dr. Susan Love Foundation for Breast Cancer Research.

“The findings of this study highlight the importance of both eliciting and addressing breast cancer patients’ uncertainty throughout the cancer trajectory to facilitate psychological adjustment,” Broadbridge said. “This is important because it underscores the role that clinicians play in helping patients manage both their physical and emotional/psychological health after breast cancer diagnosis.”

The study findings were recently published in the journal Patient Education and Counseling.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on cancer survivors and mental health.

SOURCE: Rutgers University, news release, Oct. 16, 2023