Making Sense of Turmoil: How Women Reconcile Their Emotional Response to Discovery of a Potential Breast Cancer Symptom

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Breast cancer continues to be a major public health problem for women. Early detection and treatment are key to improved outcomes. Whereas most women seek help promptly, some postpone seeking help for self-discovered breast symptoms. Investigation of women’s help-seeking behavior and the associated influencing factors on self-discovery of a breast symptom were sought.


The aim of this article is to report the qualitative data from women who had self-discovered a breast symptom.


Women (n = 167) with a self-discovered breast symptom (who were part of a large quantitative correlational study) commented in an open-ended question on their overall experience. Comments were analyzed using Discourse Analysis.


Four linked discourses were identified: (1) “being and remaining normal,” (2) “emotion,” (3) “becoming and being abnormal,” and (4) “rationality.” A sidelined discourse of emotion is drawn on to defer taking action based on rational knowledge.


The tension between discourses “emotion” and “rationality” further informs our understanding of women’s help-seeking behavior following self-discovered symptoms. Findings provide a deeper understanding of the emotional aspects of women’s experience around symptom discovery.

Implications for Practice

Findings will be of benefit to all healthcare professionals involved in assessment and screening of breast changes suggestive of breast cancer. They provide a novel insight into the meaning of breast cancer, its diagnosis and treatment, and how this impacts women’s emotions as they await consultation in a breast clinic.

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