Empathy, Uncertainty Reductions Promote Psychological Well-Being in Patients with Breast Cancer

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The investigators note that continued support during breast cancer treatment is necessary for patient comfort beyond diagnosis and the initial phases of treatment.

A recent study published in Patient Education and Counseling demonstrated that health care providers (HCPs) who show more empathy promote better psychological health among patients with breast cancer. Further, the research shows that HCPs who discuss uncertainties and concerns with patients is essential to their healing and recovery.1

Health care provider supporting patient

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Using online surveys, the investigators assessed both patients with breast cancer and patients who had recovered from breast cancer. Patients were surveyed on their uncertainties about their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, how they are coping or coped with the illness, and their thoughts on their oncologists’ communication skills. A total of 121 patients who currently have breast cancer and 187 patients who previously had breast cancer participated in the study.1

"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 study author Liesl Broadbridge, a doctoral degree candidate at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information, in a press release. "Our findings are directly applicable as targets for communication training modules for HCPs, because by continuing to advance skills in empathic communication, [they] can enhance the health care experiences of their patients.1

The researchers found that patients with breast cancer are at a significant risk for developing symptoms of anxiety and depression related to their cancer diagnosis. Further, the process of managing psychological well-being differs depending on whether the patients were currently undergoing breast cancer treatment or had completed treatment.1,2

"As health communication researchers, we are interested in how HCPs can communicate in ways that help their patients cope with [and] manage their illness and support their psychological health," said Broadbridge in the press release.1

The surveyed patients reported that higher symptom burden caused more uncertainty and reduced psychological adjustment, lower uncertainty with increased adjustment, and increased empathic communication with HCPs resulting in a lower symptom burden and uncertainty. The results indicate the importance of perceptions regarding HCP empathic communication and the potential benefits of addressing patient uncertainty about breast cancer treatment and prognosis throughout treatment.2

"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 in the press release. "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 [and] treatment phases of breast cancer survivorship."1

References

1. Rutgers University. Empathetic cancer clinicians promote psychological well-being in breast cancer patients. News release. October 16, 2023. Accessed November 20, 2023. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/10/231016222111.htm

2. Broadbridge E, Greene K, Venetis MK, et al. Facilitating psychological adjustment for breast cancer patients through empathic communication and uncertainty reduction. Patient Educ Couns. 2023;114:107791. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2023.107791

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