Open communication between mothers with breast cancer and their young adult daughters improves family members’ ability to cope with the disease and encourages proactive health promotion strategies such as cancer risk management, according to research presented at the Oncology Nursing Society 36th Annual Congress.

Mothers with a diagnosis and their daughters aged 18 to 30 years often take on the disease together. Young adult daughters often provide care and support to their mother for the first time and face disease risk as well. They may experience fear that their mother will experience recurrence and that they will develop breast cancer in the future. Based on these shared experiences, research indicates that the mother’s and daughter’s mental and physiological stress responses are highly correlated, as how they adjust is in part related to their interactions while coping and dealing with stress.

The study, led by Teri Britt Pipe, PhD, RN, Nursing Administration, Mayo Clinic Arizona, Phoenix, attempted to investigate the maladaptive functioning of communication patterns to identify healthier ways of coping. It also focused on health promotion and prevention attitudes to identify daughters’ reticence to discuss or participate in such behavior. The Family System Genetic Illness Model explains the intersection of health and family communication and demonstrates the importance of kin interaction when one family member is afflicted with a disease, illness, or stress.

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The three primary research questions were, “What characterizes and contributes to mothers’ and daughters’ avoidant communications?” “Which coping strategies appear most adaptive for mother and daughter adjustment?” and “How does mother and daughter communication and coping play a role in their health promotion and prevention decision-making behavior and coping?”

Researchers included 20 mother-daughter pairs (40 women) in their analysis. A mixed-method design that included interviews, longitudinal diaries, diary-interviews, and coping and quality of life measures was employed to obtain narratives of mother-daughter communication as they coped with the disease and discussed health prevention issues, such as genetic testing and coping with results.

The results of the study and the emergent stories will be used to create a program for mothers and daughters fighting breast cancer to teach them how to cope by providing them with behavior-modeling scripts of healthy communication. Knowledge gained will help mothers and daughters to cope with the disease and can help to develop intervention services that can assist in improving mother-daughter communication about coping and health prevention.