Abuse May Impact Cancer Battle

Intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse may make coping with cancer tougher

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Beating cancer requires the patient to feel support from all sides. Taking into account a history of abuse may help healthcare professionals improve quality of life during treatment.

A recent study surveyed women recently diagnosed with cancer about their emotional states and whether they had experienced any intimate partner violence or childhood sexual abuse. The results of the study found depression, feelings of stress, a lower sense of well-being and having had other medical conditions beyond cancer were more common in women who had experienced abuse.

"Talk to your doctor about current or past abuse."

Ann L. Coker, PhD, associate dean for research, professor and Endowed Chair in the Center for Research on Violence Against Women at the University of Kentucky, led a team to investigate whether physical or sexual abuse impacts the quality of life of women with cancer.

For the study, researchers interviewed 553 women aged 18 to 79 years from the Kentucky Cancer Registry. The women had been diagnosed with either breast, cervical or colorectal cancer within the past 12 months.

Researchers asked questions about intimate partner violence, including physical, sexual or psychological abuse, childhood sexual abuse, depression, feelings of stress and anxiety and a sense of well-being in relation to fighting cancer.

A total of 37 percent of the women were found to have experienced some type of intimate partner violence. Of women who had experienced past or present intimate partner violence, 20 percent also experienced childhood sexual abuse.

Of women who had never experienced intimate partner violence, 6 percent had experienced childhood sexual abuse.

Depressive symptoms were experienced by 61 percent of women, 84 percent had at least one medical condition other than cancer and 50 percent had two or more other medical conditions beyond cancer.

Depressive symptoms and having one or more medical conditions beyond the recent cancer diagnosis were more common in women who had experienced intimate partner violence or childhood sexual abuse.

The authors concluded that intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse were risk factors for poorer cancer-related well-being. Authors recommended assessing cancer patients for abuse histories and providing support to help improve well-being for these patients during cancer treatments and recovery.

Dr. Coker said, “These data suggest that identifying these forms of abuse in cancer patients may provide healthcare providers with helpful information to better support and improve the well-being of female cancer patients. Clinicians could improve physical and psychological functioning of women with cancer by asking women about their current and lifetime experience with these forms of abuse and providing appropriate referrals and services depending on the individual woman’s experiences.”

Intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse may negatively impact patients’ ability to effectively cope with cancer. Treatments may need to take these factors into account.

This study was published in November in the Journal of Women’s Health.

The National Institutes of Health funded this study. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 27, 2013
Last Updated:
January 30, 2013