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Breast Cancer in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence: A Qualitative Study

Erika Metzler Sawin
Kathryn Laughon
Barbara J. Parker
Richard H. Steeves
ONF 2009, 36(6), 686-692 DOI: 10.1188/09.ONF.686-692

Purpose/Objectives: To describe the experiences of women who were diagnosed with breast cancer while also encountering intimate partner violence (IPV). IPV was determined by scores on the Women's Experience With Battering Scale and the Abuse Assessment Screen.

Research Approach: Qualitative interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of seven women. Data were analyzed with a hermeneutic phenomenologic approach.

Setting: Community settings in central Virginia and Maryland.

Participants: 7 participants ranging in age from 37-63 years (X = 50 years); age at diagnosis ranged from 36-58 years (X = 46 years). All were in relationships with men, and relationship length ranged from 2-29 years (X = 12 years).

Methodologic Approach: Each participant had one semistructured qualitative interview.

Main Research Variables: Experiences of women simultaneously experiencing breast cancer and IPV.

Findings: A number of themes emerged, including: (a) reassessing life, (b) believing that stress from the relationship caused the cancer, (c) valuing support from others, and (d) the significance of the breast.

Conclusions: For all of the participants, the breast cancer diagnosis changed their intimate relationships in some way. The cancer was an opportunity for the women to engage in life review, focus inward, and, in some cases, change the relationship status.

Interpretation: Increased awareness and screening for IPV are needed in oncology clinical settings. Women with cancer are members of a vulnerable population and use the diagnosis to reassess their intimate relationships.

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