OBJECTIVES: Although cognitive adaptation theory suggests that personal control acts as a stress buffer when facing adversity, maladaptive outcomes might occur when control is disconfirmed. The moderating effect of disappointing news on the adaptiveness of personal control over cure in women with breast cancer was examined and contrasted with the effect on the adaptiveness of general control over life. Additionally, the underlying beliefs and correlates of control over cure were explored.
METHODS: Women with newly diagnosed breast cancer were assessed after surgery (n=228). For a sub-sample (n=133) data before surgery and after the end of treatment were available as well. Data were collected through questionnaires and face-to-face interviews. The prescription of chemotherapy after surgery was used as an indicator of disappointing news.
RESULTS: A chemotherapy prescription neither enhances nor limits the adaptiveness of disease-specific or general control perceptions. Women reported that maintaining a positive attitude, accepting treatment and adopting a healthy life style gave them a sense of control over cure. Women with a strong sense of control over cure more often had invasive cancer, were younger and were best characterized by high optimism and strong sense of control over life.
CONCLUSIONS: The findings add to our understanding of exaggerated control perceptions in cancer patients treated with curative intent and do not give reason to assume that such perceptions should be altered because of potentially maladaptive effects. On the contrary, a strong sense of control over the cure of breast cancer seems to reflect the capacity to adapt.