Blog Post

Healing Inside and Out: Addressing Breast Cancer and Mental Health

Emma’s world crumbled the day she received her breast cancer diagnosis.

How will I afford treatment? What if I don’t recover? she wondered. The uncertainty of it all felt crippling. She enjoyed a brief glimmer of hope after speaking with her oncologist, but Emma still couldn’t shake the anxiety gnawing at her.

Emma’s not the only one. Amidst the sea of pink ribbons and awareness campaigns, the mental health of breast cancer patients and survivors often goes unnoticed. That’s why it’s critical that we explore:

  • The relationship between breast cancer and mental well-being
  • Why traditional care isn’t cutting it
  • How behavioral health integration can provide a much-needed lifeline
  • Other tips for prioritizing mental health

If you’re a primary care provider with patients like Emma, or if you relate to Emma’s story, read ahead.

The Relationship Between Breast Cancer and Mental Health

Breast cancer isn’t just a medical diagnosis; it’s an emotional whirlwind that can lead to anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many other mental illnesses. Here’s why:

  • Fear of the Unknown – Treatment outcomes and potential side effects can weigh heavily on the mind.
  • Shattered Self-Image – Surgery, chemotherapy, and other treatments can alter a person’s body image and self-esteem.
  • Financial Burden – Total treatment costs may be anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000+.
  • Suffering in Silence Breast cancer can become a silent killer in many ways. In particular, numerous patients report feeling lonely and isolated.

Although up to a third of breast cancer patients experience symptoms of depression both during and after treatment, getting help isn’t easy. Stigma, high costs, and month-long wait times prevent many from seeking help altogether.

The Healing Power of Behavioral Health Integration

Primary care providers (PCPs) play a vital role in detecting cancers of all types at earlier stages—including breast cancer. They’re also on the frontlines providing guidance to patients after diagnosis and during treatment. All that’s missing is a mental health professional to ensure comprehensive, wraparound care.

When primary care practices integrate behavioral health services, breast cancer patients and survivors are better able to navigate their physically and emotionally challenging journey.

Here’s how with Emma from earlier:

  • Early Detection and Support -- Emma’s PCP detected signs of breast cancer months earlier. After receiving an official diagnosis, Emma returns to her PCP for a follow-up appointment. She reports feeling anxious, losing sleep, and worrying about the side effects of chemotherapy.

    Her PCP refers her to an onsite mental health professional down the hall to begin therapy treatment immediately.

  • Tailored Care – The mental health professional begins treating Emma for anxiety. They collaborate with Emma and her PCP to craft a personalized care plan that addresses her unique physical and mental health needs.

  • Ongoing Treatment – Emma begins chemotherapy. She also visits her primary care practice every month to see her PCP and therapist. They work together to assess her progress and provide ongoing support as she completes chemotherapy.

  • Improved Outcomes – After several sessions, Emma feels more optimistic about chemotherapy with a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms.

Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with breast cancer?

Taking care of your mental health is essential. Here are some tips.

  • Seek Professional Support – Never, ever, self-diagnose medical or mental illnesses. Make an appointment with your doctor or therapist to discuss your concerns instead. These licensed professionals can equip you with valuable coping strategies to manage the emotional challenges that often accompany breast cancer diagnoses. If the primary care practice you trust offers onsite behavioral health services, you’ll get the best of both worlds.

  • Connect with Breast Cancer Support Groups – Joining can provide a sense of belonging and understanding that’s hard to find elsewhere. Sharing experiences with others can be immensely comforting and empowering. Find breast cancer support groups through the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s website.

  • Educate Yourself – Gaining knowledge from reputable sources can alleviate the fear and anxiety associated with breast cancer diagnoses. Get started here:
    1. How Breast Cancer Can Affect Mental Health + Types of Mental Health Support –
    2. Breast Cancer: How Your Mind Can Help Your Body – American Psychological Association
    3. Getting Social Support for Breast Cancer – Susan G. Komen

  • Practice Self-Care – Set aside intentional time to do the things that bring you joy. Whether it’s reading, arts and crafts, physical exercise, or journaling, even 30-minutes a day will positively impact your overall health.

  • Celebrate Milestones – Whether it’s making your first appointment with a licensed professional or completing your first round of treatment, don’t forget to celebrate wins big and small. It will boost morale and keep you engaged in your treatment plan.

Recognizing and addressing the mental health struggles associated with breast cancer is as vital as the medical treatment itself. Bridging the gap between physical and mental health care can offer a lifeline of compassion and hope for both patients and survivors alike.


Do you have breast cancer patients or survivors?
Screen them for mental health today.

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