A Longitudinal Investigation of Internalized Stigma, Constrained Disclosure, and Quality of Life Across 12 Weeks in Lung Cancer Patients on Active Oncologic Treatment

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Abstract

Introduction:

Internalized lung cancer stigma (i.e., feelings of regret, shame, and self-blame about one’s lung cancer) is related to poorer psychological outcomes. Less is known about how internalized stigma relates to physical and functional outcomes or how constrained disclosure (i.e., avoidance of or discomfort about disclosing one’s lung cancer status to others) relates to well-being. Furthermore, no study has examined whether internalized stigma and constrained disclosure predict changes in well-being for lung cancer patients. This longitudinal study characterized relationships of internalized stigma and constrained disclosure with emotional and physical/functional outcomes.

Methods:

Participants (N = 101, 52.4% male, 63.4% currently/formerly smoked) were lung cancer patients on active medical treatment who completed questionnaires on stigma and well-being at study entry and at 6- and 12-week follow-up. Multivariable linear regressions characterized relationships of internalized stigma and constrained disclosure with emotional and physical/functional well-being at study entry and across time.

Results:

Participants who currently or formerly smoked reported higher levels of internalized stigma (but not constrained disclosure), compared to never smokers (p < 0.001). Higher internalized stigma and constrained disclosure were uniquely associated with poorer emotional and physical/functional well-being at study entry (all p < 0.05), beyond sociodemographic characteristics, time elapsed since diagnosis, and smoking status. Higher internalized stigma predicted significant declines in emotional well-being across 6 and 12 weeks (all p < 0.01) and declines in physical/functional well-being across 6 weeks (p < 0.05).

Conclusions:

Internalized lung cancer stigma and constrained disclosure relate to emotional and physical/functional maladjustment. Findings carry implications for provider- and patient-focused interventions to reduce internalized stigma and promote well-being.

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