Women who've had a breast biopsy may suffer adverse health effects from the stress of waiting for the results, according to a study in the journal Radiology.
"When women express how taxing it is to have to wait for results, the medical establishment may dismiss their feelings as psychological," said the study's lead author, Elvira V. Lang, from Harvard Medical School. "We were able to show that this state of not knowing the diagnosis goes along with biochemical changes which can have adverse effects on wound healing and the immune system."
Dr. Lang and colleagues sought to establish a biochemical marker to assess the physical effects associated with the stress of extended waiting for a final diagnosis after breast biopsy. The researchers used cortisol samples collected from the saliva of 126 women during an earlier clinical trial on patient stress during biopsy. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland and is often referred to as the "stress hormone." The production of cortisol is part of the body's natural response to stress. Stress-induced imbalances in cortisol secretion have been associated with impairments to immune response and wound healing.
"Cortisol helps us fight acute stress by adjusting blood pressure, blood sugar and immune response in a good way when needed," Dr. Lang said. "But when stress becomes chronic, cortisol secretion either goes into continuous overdrive or dries up, leaving the immune system vulnerable and other body functions less well adapted."
The results showed that cortisol secretion for the women with uncertain results was significantly different than that of the women with benign results and highly similar to secretion levels in the women with malignant results.
The researchers hope that these findings will encourage faster analysis and communication of biopsy results. They counsel women to speak to their doctors about communication procedures before undergoing breast biopsy. "Women should ask who will communicate their results to them and how long it will take to receive them," Dr. Lang said. "It is no longer so easy for healthcare providers to overlook the effects of extended waiting and say 'Oh, it's just nerves'."
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Source: Radiological Society of North America