By: M Najmuz Zafar

MUSCAT: Diagnosis of breast cancer is devastating for most Omani women, affecting their personal and social life and it is accompanied by anxiety.

In a first of its kind study conducted by Sultan Qaboos University, researchers focused on psychosocial impact of breast cancer diagnosis among Omani women. They found that the disease has a devastating impact on women in Oman, triggering several adverse reactions for a majority of them, like anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain, difficulty in concentrating, social isolation, sexuality concerns and self-blame.

The results from the study identified several factors such as those related to stress and uncertainty, reactions of family members, social perception of oneself, as well as worries and threats of relapse in the future. “When the participants were diagnosed with breast cancer, many of them entered a state of shock. For them the word cancer meant ‘death sentence’,” said lead researcher Mohammed al Azri, in the study published in SQU Medical Journal.

In Oman, breast cancer is the most common cancer, accounting for approximately 16.4 per cent of all cancers in women. The awareness of breast cancer in women is generally low and several cultural barriers may be attributed towards the delay in diagnosis as a majority of them get to know about the disease only at an advanced stage, stated the study. The study group comprised 19 women diagnosed with breast cancer, and at different stages of treatment including chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy, alone or in combination. Their age ranged from 24 to 54 years. While 16 women were married, three were single.

The research quoted the respondents. Aged 28 years, 12 months post-diagnosis, a respondent who had been operated upon and was on chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, said, “The word death always rings in my ear…the fear of recurrence affects my life… I worry about my future both in terms of my married life and my work.”

Another respondent aged 48 years, 17 months post-diagnosis, on chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, said, “I could not sit or sleep alone, I was always calling my children to be beside me, scared of dying alone, without seeing them.”

Some respondents were concerned that their diagnosis would have emotional ramifications on their family members who would be shocked and saddened by the diagnosis, which, in turn, made them feel worse. “My entire family was so sad, especially my elder sister, and my brother. They could not cope with the news…my husband was the most devastated,” said a 42 year old respondent, 14 months post-diagnosis, on chemotherapy treatment. On the other hand, some of the participants felt that the relationships with their family members, including husbands, became stronger after diagnosis and that family members became more supportive.

A majority of the respondents reported to have been pressurised by family members to travel abroad for treatment.