Breast Cancer Often Leads to Personal Growth

Medically reviewed in July 2022

Being diagnosed with breast cancer is a major life challenge. It’s normal (and expected) to feel fear, anger and resentment. But surprisingly, research shows it can also be a time of great personal growth. Psychologists call the concept “post-traumatic growth,” where a traumatic incident (in this case breast cancer diagnosis) can actually cause positive psychological changes in a person.

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Researchers asked 653 breast cancer patients (mostly stage 1 or stage 2) questions to gauge their feelings about personal relationships, changes in spirituality and openness to new possibilities a year or so after their diagnosis. Despite the fact that a breast cancer diagnosis can be devastating, a majority of women reported going through a personal growth experience during that time period. That included anything from have stronger relationships with family and friends to a greater appreciation for life. And it wasn’t just women who were optimistic or had a sunny disposition. Researchers found that women who said their social support increased after their diagnosis tended to show more post-traumatic growth. (Find out where residents have the strongest social networks.) The study was published in the journal Psycho-Oncology.

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Why you need support
When confronted with a diagnosis of breast cancer, your initial thought may be that you’re in this battle alone. Truth is, you’re not, and this study illustrates how much a strong support system can help you in your fight. Support can come in many different forms: friends, family, support groups, church or spiritual groups, online communities and even individual counselors. If you aren’t sure who can help, call your American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 and a representative will put you in touch with an appropriate group or resource.

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