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News Article

Stigma, Trauma Haunt Breast Cancer Survivors

By Miriam Bello | Fri, 10/22/2021 - 11:48

Breast cancer leads to numerous psychological issues that include anxiety, clinical depression, body image problems and stigma, which may persist after treatment is completed. Mexican organizations are developing several initiatives to support survivors from diagnosis to recovery.

Stigma is a common challenge patients face during and after treatments for breast cancer, which adds unnecessary pressure and can lead to trauma. Perceived health-related stigma (PHS) is characterized by the perception of exclusion, rejection, blame or devaluation that results from experience or anticipation of an adverse social judgment. According to the Chinese Nursing Research (CNR), PHS contributes to physical, psychological and social morbidity and it has been identified as a barrier to health promotion.

For breast cancer patients, stigma can begin as early as breast self-exams, according to a study by the Department of Medical Surgical Nursing. Breast cancer leads to wide-ranging psychological issues including problems accepting the diagnosis, adjustment disorders and anxiety, which may progress to clinical depression during treatment, according to the Indian Journal of Medical and Pediatric Oncology. Body image problems or stigma may persist even after treatment is completed, especially is a patient went through a mastectomy.

“For some women, the thought of waking up post-operation and looking down to see only a space where once there was a breast is too traumatic a thought to countenance,” said the Breast Cancer Now Organization (BCNO). Some women opt to skip reconstruction after a mastectomy due to a medical necessity or a personal choice.

In Mexico, 50 percent of breast cancer survivors have reported discrimination and 60 percent have reported stigmatization, according to the INCan. While at least six out of 10 survivors fear relapse, others suffer from anxiety and depression and some have reported complications in sexual performance.

Through the Official Mexican Standard NOM-041-SSA2-2011, Mexican authorities aim to manage the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, while performing epidemiological surveillance on patients to reduce the impact of the disease and improve the quality of life of women. In 2016, the National Institute of Women (INMUJERES) published a manual for the emotional accompaniment of women diagnosed with breast cancer and help them access opportunities, make decisions and obtain other resources for self-care.

Health tech entrepreneurs are also developing initiatives to support survivors. “After seeing the struggle from his mother after suffering from breast cancer, Cali’s founder developed an external prosthesis with an aesthetic function that also helps to balance the weight of the breast,” said Jorge Pérez, Managing and Innovation Director of inMateriis. Pérez said that not all patients want to undergo reconstructive surgery but their self-esteem and confidence are greatly affected by this disease.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst