A study to find out if writing about their experience can help women after surgery for breast cancer

Cancer type:

Breast cancer

Status:

Results

Phase:

Pilot

This was a study to find out if writing about how they feel can help women come to terms with having surgery for breast cancer.

Doctors often treat breast cancer with surgery. Having surgery can be a very upsetting and stressful experience. It can also change the way women feel about themselves and their bodies.

Writing about serious and stressful events can help people deal with them. In this study some women wrote about what they were doing day to day (they were the control group), and some wrote about their experiences of breast cancer treatment. At the end of the study, the researchers interviewed each woman and asked about their writing and their cancer experiences in general.

The aim of this study was to find out if writing about their experiences of breast cancer surgery could help women with the way they feel about themselves and their bodies.

Summary of results

In this study, some women found it helpful to write about their experiences.

In total, 32 women completed the study. 14 women wrote about their experiences of breast cancer treatment, and 18 wrote about what they were doing day to day (the control group).

Talking to the women 3 months later, the team learned more about their experiences of writing and how it affected them.

Many women in the treatment experience group said that writing about their experiences was a relief. And women in both groups found benefit in taking some time out of their normal routine.

Some women in the treatment experience group found that writing forced them to look back and face their cancer experiences, which they would not normally have done. Some said that they have now discussed, or plan to discuss, their feelings with family or professionals. No one in the control group reported this.

Reflection was the main benefit for the control group. Many said that by writing about what they were doing day to day, they could see how far they had come and that they had returned to a normal, or sometimes better, level of coping and activity. The study team was surprised by this as they had not expected the control group to benefit from taking part.

Women in both groups were worried about bringing up the past. Some said they had found this difficult. Others found it useful.

Most of the women who didn’t find the writing helpful were in the control group.

As a result of completing the writing, some women in the treatment experience group have continued to use writing as a way of coping with difficulties. And others in the same group are making the effort to find answers to questions they had about their diagnosis.

The team learned that, if they were to offer this again, timing would be important. Most women thought it would be best to offer writing therapy 2 to 3 months after finishing treatment. But some preferred the idea of writing about their experiences from diagnosis onwards.

Most women felt that giving other patients the chance to write about their experiences would be worthwhile. And the team felt they got some very useful information, which will help them to do more work in this area.

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. As far as we are aware, the information they sent us has not been reviewed independently (peer reviewed) or published in a medical journal yet. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Dr Clare Harley

Supported by

Breast Cancer Campaign
National Institute for Health Research Cancer Research Network (NCRN)
University of Leeds

Questions about cancer? Contact our information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracel 5915

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Harriet wanted to try new treatments

Picture of Harriet

“I was keen to go on a clinical trial. I wanted to try new cancer treatments and hopefully help future generations.”

Last reviewed:

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