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Relational mechanisms and psychological outcomes in couples affected by breast cancer: a systematic narrative analysis of the literature


Introduction Relationships are a significant dimension of illness experience. At the couple level, partners will respond to illness as an interpersonal unit rather than individuals in isolation. Research adopting a relational perspective have focused on communication, relational coping and relationship functioning and satisfaction. To our knowledge, there is no published systematic review of literature that reports associations between a couple's relationship and psychological outcomes of patients and partners affected by breast cancer.

Aim To review studies that examine the impact of relational mechanisms on psychological outcomes in couples affected by breast cancer and thereby improve understanding of the connections between patient, disease and family.

Methods A systematic search for literature was conducted, which was followed by a thematic analysis of study findings and a narrative synthesis.

Results Sixteen papers were included. Papers were published relatively recently between 1988 and 2010. Three relational components were identified: (i) couple coping, (ii) relationship functioning and satisfaction, (iii) communication. While the literature indicates associations between relational and psychological variables, with such a small evidence base, the use of different terminology and different theoretical frameworks makes it almost impossible to draw definitive conclusions about which relational component holds greatest potential for effecting change on psychological well-being.

Conclusions While there remain many opportunities for contributing to the theoretical and empirical work in this field, there is sufficient evidence to propose a relational approach to supporting people affected by cancer.

  • Cancer
  • Family management
  • Psychological care
  • Supportive care

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