Acclimating to breast cancer: A process of maintaining self-integrity in the pretreatment period

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22 Scopus citations


Background: The period between diagnosis and initial treatment is one of the most stressful times for women with breast cancer. Unresolved distress may lead to future mental health and adjustment difficulties. Adjustment is facilitated by thoughts and behaviors that integrate a threatening event into a person's worldview. Few studies, however, have explored women's pretreatment thought processes. Objective: The purpose of this study was to develop a grounded theory of the pretreatment thought processes and behaviors of women diagnosed with breast cancer. Methods: Grounded theory method guided theoretical sampling of 18 women from a Midwestern, US breast center who were 37 to 87 years old, diagnosed with stage 0 to II breast cancer within the past 6 to 21 days and awaiting surgical treatment. Constant comparison of interview data and open, selective, and theoretical coding identified interrelated concepts and constructs that formed the grounded theory. Results: Threatened self-integrity was the main concern of women identified in the pretreatment period. Women addressed this problem through a continuous, nonlinear process of acclimating to breast cancer consisting of 3 stages: surveying the situation, taking action, and emerging self. Situational and personal factors influenced women's degree of engagement in 1 or more stages. Conclusions: Women's pretreatment response to breast cancer diagnosis involves integrated thought processes to maintain self-integrity influenced by situational and personal factors hypothesized to be amenable to interventions that facilitate adjustment. Implications for Practice: New insights provided by this theory can guide clinical practice and generate hypotheses to test pretreatment interventions to support psychological adjustment to breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-279
Number of pages12
JournalCancer Nursing
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Breast cancer
  • Grounded theory
  • Mental processes
  • Pretreatment period
  • Psychological well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Oncology(nursing)


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