A special kind of stress: Assessing feelings of decisional distress for breast cancer treatment decisions

Rivers, Alannah Shelby
Sanford, Keith
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

Objective: Women with breast cancer need to make difficult treatment decisions and may experience decisional distress (worry, anxiety, and thought intrusion) associated with these decisions. This study investigated ways that decisional distress was both associated with and distinct from other variables regarding decisional process and life functioning, and it investigated the validity of a decisional distress scale.

Methods: A total of 263 women previously or currently diagnosed with breast cancer reported on initial treatment decisions regarding surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, or decisions involving oral endocrine therapy (either currently or retrospectively). Participants completed online measures of decisional distress, alliance and confusion in patient-practitioner relationships, positive and negative interactions in close relationships, financial and general distress, and decision satisfaction.

Results: Decisional distress demonstrated a unidimensional factor structure invariant across treatment context groups, a wide range of meaningful variation, significant correlations with all hypothesized variables (especially patient confusion), but also key distinctions from other variables.

Conclusion: Decisional distress is a meaningful construct that can be assessed with precision, and important for understanding medical decision-making processes and patient quality of life.

Practice implications: Assessing decisional distress is crucial for evaluating treatment decision outcomes. One key to reducing decisional distress may involve reducing patient confusion.

Article originally published in Patient Education and Counseling, 104(12), 3038–3044. English. Published online 2021. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pec.2021.04.020
Anxiety, Breast neoplasms, Clinical decision-making, Quality of life
This is the post-print of an article that is available at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pec.2021.04.020. Recommended citation: Rivers, Rivers, A. S., & Sanford, K. (2021). A special kind of stress: Assessing feelings of decisional distress for breast cancer treatment decisions. Patient Education and Counseling, 104(12), 3038–3044. This item has been deposited in accordance with publisher copyright and licensing terms and with the author’s permission.