Applying the Stress and ‘Strength’ Hypothesis to Black Women's Breast Cancer Screening Delays

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Associations between stress and breast cancer highlight stressful life events as barriers to breast cancer screening, increased stress due to a breast cancer scare or diagnosis, or the immunosuppressive properties of stress as a risk factor for breast cancer occurrence. Little is known, however, about how women's reactions to stressful life events impact their breast health trajectory. In this study, we explore how reactions to stressors serve as a potential barrier to breast cancer screening among Black women. We apply a gender-specific, culturally responsive stress-process framework, the Stress and ‘Strength’ Hypothesis (“strength hypothesis”), to understand links between the ‘Strong Black Woman role’ role, Black women's stress reactions and their observed screening delays. We conceptualize strength as a culturally prescribed coping style that conditions resilience, self-reliance and psychological hardiness as a survival response to race-related and gender-related stressors. Using qualitative methods, we investigate the potential for this coping mechanism to manifest as extraordinary caregiving, emotional suppression and self-care postponement. These manifestations may result in limited time for scheduling and attending screening appointments, lack of or delay in acknowledgement of breast health symptoms and low prioritization of breast care. Limitations and future directions are discussed. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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