An expressive writing intervention may lead to long-term improvement of health outcomes among Asian American breast cancer survivors and has the potential to be utilized as a support strategy for minority cancer survivors, a study conducted by a researcher at the University of Houston suggests.
Although expressive writing interventions have been previously shown to improve health outcomes among non-Hispanic white breast cancer populations, little attention has been focused on Asian American breast cancer survivor’s psychological needs, and no outcome-based psychological interventions have been reported to target at this population.
Like war veterans in Iraq, cancer patients “can experience post-traumatic stress symptoms,” explains Qian Lu, assistant professor and director of the Culture and Health Research Center at UH. “Many times when cancer patients get diagnosed, they face lots of emotional trauma. There’s a sense of loss, depression, anxiety about going into treatment and how they are going to face the future,” said Lu.
With this study, called “A Pilot Study of Expressive Writing Intervention Among Chinese-Speaking Breast Cancer Survivors,” researchers aimed to test the cultural sensitivity, feasibility, and potential health benefits of an expressive writing intervention among Chinese-speaking breast cancer survivors.
A total of 19 patients were asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings, their coping efforts, and positive thoughts and feelings regarding their experience with breast cancer each week for 3 weeks. Health outcomes were assessed at baseline, 3, and 6 months after the intervention.
Results showed that writing was associated with medium and large effect sizes in improving multiple health outcomes at follow-ups, such as quality of life, fatigue, post-traumatic stress, intrusive thoughts, and positive affect. Participants, in their turn, also perceived the study to be valuable.
In addition, the community-based participatory research approach, the method used in this study, was considered as valuable in improving feasibility and cultural sensitivity of the intervention in understudied populations.
For Lu, what’s interesting in expressing emotions through writing is that “it has been proven as a scientific paradigm.”
“The findings from the study suggest participants perceived the writing task to be easy, revealed their emotions, and disclosed their experiences in writing that they had not previously told others. Participants reported that they wrote down whatever they thought and felt and perceived the intervention to be appropriate and valuable,” Lu concluded.