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The role of stressful life events on the cortisol reactivity patterns of breast cancer survivors

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Objective: Atypical patterns of cortisol secretion following an acute stressor have been commonly reported in breast cancer survivors. Stressful life events have been associated with blunted acute cortisol levels in other populations. The purpose of this study was to explore the role of stressful life events on cortisol secretion patterns of breast cancer survivors following an acute stressor.

Design: The Trier Social Stress (TSST) was used to elicit a moderate stress response in breast cancer survivors (n = 19) and a control group (n = 17). Saliva samples were collected before, during and after the TSST to provide cortisol concentrations. During recovery, we recorded the frequency and subjective impact of stressful life events in the past year using the Life Experience Survey.

Results: Simple regressions analyses were performed; results suggest no group differences between the total number of stressful life events and their subjective impact. However, the total number of stressful life events as well as their subjective impact correlated negatively with the peak cortisol concentration in breast cancer survivors.

Conclusions: The cumulative effect of stressful life events, positive and negative, may impact the endocrine stress system of breast cancer survivors more so than that of women with no history of cancer.
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Keywords: breast cancer survivorship; life events; salivary cortisol; stress

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Psychology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

Publication date: December 2, 2017

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