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Coping with head and neck cancer during different phases of treatment.

Sherman AC, Simonton S, Adams DC, Vural E, Hanna E.

Behavioral Medicine, Arkansas Cancer Research Center, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, 4301 West Markham, Slot 756, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. [email protected]

BACKGROUND: Little is known about how patients cope with head and neck cancer despite its devastating impact on basic functioning. This study examined coping patterns among patients at different phases of illness. METHODS: Participants were 120 patients with advanced disease, who were grouped according to the following phases of illness: (1) pretreatment, (2) on treatment, (3) <6 months after treatment, and (4) >6 months after treatment. Coping was assessed with the COPE questionnaire, and outcome measures assessed general distress (Profile of Mood States) and illness-specific distress (Impact of Events Scale). RESULTS: Use of specific coping responses differed among the groups. Denial (p <.05), behavioral disengagement (ie, giving up or withdrawing, p <.05), suppression of competing activities (ie, focusing exclusively on the illness, p <.01), and emotional ventilation (p <.10) were most characteristic of patients who were receiving or had recently completed treatment. There were no differences in flexibility of coping or overall effort expended, but patients who were on treatment or who had recently completed treatment used the greatest number of strategies. Generally, denial, behavioral disengagement, and emotional ventilation were associated with greater distress. CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest that phase of illness may be important in shaping patients' responses to life-threatening illness.

Head Neck 2000 Dec;22(8):787-93

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