Traumatic stress symptoms and breast cancer: The role of childhood abuse

Rachel E. Goldsmith, Lina Jandorf*, Heiddis Valdimarsdottir, Kandace L. Amend, Brett G. Stoudt, Christine Marie Rini, Dawn Hershman, Alfred Neugut, James J. Reilly, Paul I. Tartter, Sheldon M. Feldman, Christine B. Ambrosone, Dana H. Bovbjerg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Objective: The present study investigated relations between reported childhood abuse and recent traumatic stress symptoms in women newly diagnosed with breast cancer (n=330). Methods: As part of a larger ongoing study, patients from eight public and private hospitals were referred by their physicians and completed the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ), and the Impact of Events Scale-breast cancer (IES), which measured breast cancer-related intrusive and avoidant symptoms. Results: Emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse were correlated with intrusive symptoms. Cancer-related avoidant symptoms approached significance in their relation to emotional and sexual abuse. Multivariate analysis, controlling for age and time since diagnosis, revealed that childhood emotional abuse was an independent predictor of breast cancer-related intrusive symptoms, but that childhood physical abuse and sexual abuse were not significant predictors. Conclusions: Childhood emotional, physical, and sexual abuse were associated with breast cancer-related intrusive symptoms. Emotional abuse uniquely predicted intrusive symptoms after controlling for other predictors. Results suggest that a cancer diagnosis may trigger cognitive and emotional responses that relate to patients' prior trauma experiences. Practice implications: Physicians and psychologists treating women with breast cancer should be aware that a history of childhood abuse may exacerbate patients' cancer-related intrusive symptoms. Interventions for women affected by both childhood abuse and breast cancer may be most effective when they address both stressors and associated emotional responses. Findings highlight the importance of additional research to explore links between prior trauma and distress following a cancer diagnosis stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-470
Number of pages6
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • Breast cancer
  • Child abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Intrusive symptoms
  • Traumatic stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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