Women who are waiting for breast biopsy results know the gut wrenching stress that accompanies waiting for that all important phone call that relays the important results. Doctors and medical staff may dismiss the feelings of anxiety as psychological, but a new study shows that the stress of waiting itself can cause adverse effects to health.
The study was published in the March issue of Radiology. The lead author of the study was Elvira V. Lang, MD., an associate radiology professor at Harvard Medical School and a radiologist at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Lang stated in a press release that the stress of not knowing the biopsy diagnosis accompanies biochemical changes that can adversely affect the immune system and wound healing.
According to information released by the Radiological Society of North America, there are over 1.2 million breast biopsies performed in the United States every year. 80 percent of the biopsies come back with findings of non-cancerous, according to the American Cancer Society.
The period of time involved in waiting for the biopsy, undergoing the biopsy and then waiting for the results is a time of considerable stress and anxiety for women.
Dr. Lang, along with her colleagues set out to establish a biochemical marker assessing the physical effects that were associated with the stress of extended waiting for a diagnosis.
Cortisol samples collected from saliva samples were collected during an earlier clinical trial about biopsy and patient stress. Cortisol is often called the “stress hormone” because it is produced by the adrenal gland as part of the body’s response to stress. Imbalances in secretion related to stress have linked to immune impairment and wound healing.
Dr. Lang stated that the hormone cortisol helps people to fight stress by adjusting immune response, blood sugar and blood pressure. When stress goes from acute to chronic the cortisol secretion either goes into overdrive or dries up. This leaves the immune system vulnerable.
During the study, women who had a breast biopsy had cortisol samples collected on the day of the biopsy and for the next four days.
Researchers found that the women who were uncertain of their diagnoses because it had not yet been communicated to them, or because they needed further tests, was similar to the women who had gotten results showing a malignant diagnoses.
The researchers expressed hope that the findings will encourage medical professions to analyze and communicate biopsy results faster.
Dr. Lang stated that this study will make it harder for healthcare providers to overlook the stress of an extended wait for results by saying “Oh, it’s just nerves.
Women should talk to their doctor about how long the results will take and who will communicate them before having the biopsy.
Radiological Society of North America: Waiting for biopsy results may adversly affect healh. Press release dated February 24, 2009, EurekAlert.
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