Distress in partners of high-risk women undergoing breast cancer surveillance
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Background: Partners are an importance source of support for women at risk for hereditary breast cancer. The impact of regular breast cancer surveillance in at-risk women on psychological distress in the partners of these women is unknown. This study aimed to (1) examine the levels and courses of psychological distress of partners and high-risk women around breast cancer surveillance appointments at the clinic, (2) to explore the relationship between partners' and women's distress, and (3) to identify factors that were associated with distress in partners. Methods: Partners of 77 high-risk women adhering to breast cancer surveillance, and participating in a psychological follow-up study, completed questionnaires measuring psychological distress 2 months before (T0), on the day of (T1) and 1 to 4 weeks after (T2) two consecutive biannual appointments for the women at the clinic. Results: Partners' breast cancer-specific distress was positively related to the women's cancer-specific distress prior to breast cancer surveillance. Fatherhood and affective risk perception were positively associated with distress in partners. Conclusions: Our findings indicate that the psychological distress associated with stressful waiting for the breast cancer surveillance appointment, and - after the appointment - for the results, is an interpersonal experience, which is shared within the couple. These findings underscore the importance of involving partners in the clinical interventions for high-risk women. Clinicians should address the affective risk perception of partners, i.e. how they experience the increased breast cancer risk of the woman.