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July 2022

Cancer-prone personality as a causal attribution: An expression of the spread of a maladaptive disease

Author(s): Lang, H., Schilling, S.

Journal/Book: Z Klin Psychol Psychiatr Psyc. 1996; 44: Postfach 2540, W-4790 Paderborn, Germany. Verlag Ferdinand Schoningh. 104-116.

Abstract: In psycho-oncology, the concept of a ''cancer-prone personality'' has gained some attention. This notion means that persons who try to stay pseudo-normal in spite of severe life stress, suppress negative emotions, particularly anger, and sacrifice themselves for other people without uttering any personal demands, are at a high risk to develop cancer. However, it has been demonstrated by previous research that features o the cancer-prone personality could only be found if the ill person was convinced to suffer from cancer, irrespective of what the factual diagnosis was. Thus it can be concluded that at least some aspects of the so called cancer personality might be the results of coping with the belief of having cancer. The present study had the objective to describe causal attributions to psychosocial factors in cancer patients, and to find out if these were connected with emotional state and coping. N = 120 newly diagnosed lung cancer patients were included in the study. The instruments consisted of a semi-structured interview, a check-list of subjective causal factors, self-reports and interviewer ratings on emotional state and standardised questionnaires about depression and coping. Patients who made a psychosocial causal attribution proved to suffer from greater emotional distress, to be more depressed and less hopeful than other patients. This difference seemed to be mediated by a depressive way of coping with the illness (brooding, wrangling). Thus, an attribution of the illness to psychological factors seems indicative of a maladaptive way of coping with illness. This result is supported by similar findings of previous research. The question is put up to discussion if the psychosomatic concept of cancer personality may reflect patients' subjective theories which in turn may be the expression of their depressive coping modes.

Note: Article H Faller, Univ Wurzburg, Inst Psychotherapie & Med Psychol, Klinikstr 3, D-97070 Wurzburg, Germany


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