Breast cancer survivors benefit from expressive writing

  • PTI, Houston
  • Updated: Aug 04, 2014 15:22 IST

Writing down fears, emotions and the benefits of a cancer diagnosis may improve health outcomes for breast cancer survivors, according to a new study.

In the study, researchers at the University of Houston(UH) found long-term physical and psychological health benefits when Chinese-speaking breast cancer survivors wrote about their deepest fears and the benefits of a breast cancer diagnosis.

Qian Lu, assistant professor and director of the Culture and Health Research Center at UH, found that little attention is paid to Asian-American breast cancer survivor's psychological needs.

Previous studies largely focused on non-Hispanic white samples, and she found a need to research this understudied population.

Some of the challenges she noted with this population were feeling stigmatised, shame associated with cancer, cultural beliefs of bearing the burden alone to avoid disrupting harmony, suppressing emotions, and a lack of trained mental health professionals with cultural and linguistic competency.

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"We thought of a very interesting way to help this problem. It's actually fairly basic. It's to express emotions using writing. What's so interesting is that it has been proven as a scientific paradigm," Lu said.

According to Lu, previous research found that writing about emotionally difficult events for just 20 to 30 minutes at a time over three or four days increased the immune function.

Lu's research team asked participants to complete a standardised health assessment and then they were asked to write 20 minutes each week for three weeks.

Three sealed envelopes were mailed simultaneously to the participants with each envelope containing different writing instructions for the corresponding week.

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Questionnaires assessing health outcomes were mailed to participants at three and six months after the completion of the writing assignments. Semi-structured phone interviews were conducted after the 6-month follow-up.

"The findings from the study suggest participants perceived the writing task to be easy, revealed their emotions, and disclosed their experiences in writing that they had not previously t

old others," Lu said.

"Participants reported that they wrote down whatever they thought and felt and perceived the intervention to be appropriate and valuable," said Lu.

Lu added that health outcomes associated with the expressive writing intervention include a decrease of fatigue, intrusive thoughts, and reducing posttraumatic stress after three months.

Lu also noted a decrease of fatigue, posttraumatic stress, and the increase of qualify of life and positive affect after six months.

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