Optimism versus pessimism predicts the quality of women's adjustment to early stage breast cancer

Charles S. Carver, Christina Pozo‐Kaderman, Suzanne D. Harris, Victoria Noriega, Michael F. Scheier, David S. Robinson, Alfred S. Ketcham, Frederick L. Moffat, Kimberley C. Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations


Background. Recent studies indicate that breast cancer patients do not usually experience the devastating psychological consequences once viewed as inevitable. However, some adjust to the disease more poorly than others. This study examined the personality trait of optimism versus pessimism as a predictor of adjustment over the first year, postsurgery. Methods. Seventy women with early stage breast cancer reported on their general optimism- pessimism at diagnosis. One day before surgery, and at 3-month, 6-month, and 12-month follow-ups, they reported their subjective well-being (mood scales and a measure of satisfaction with life). At follow-ups, they also rated their sex lives, indicated how much physical discomfort was interfering with their daily activities, and reported on thought intrusion. Results. Pessimism displayed poorer adjustment at each time point by all measures except interference from pain. Even controlling for previous well-being, pessimism predicted poorer subsequent well-being, suggesting that pessimism represents a vulnerability to a negative change in adjustment. In contrast, effects of pessimism on quality of sex life and thought intrusion were not incremental over time. Additional analyses indicated that effects of the optimism- pessimism measure were captured relatively well by a single item from the scale. Conclusions. A sense of pessimism about one's life enhances a woman's risk for adverse psychological reactions to the diagnosis of, and treatment for, breast cancer. This finding suggests the potential desirability of assessing this quality informally in patients, to serve as a warning sign regarding the patient's well-being during the period surrounding and following surgery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1213-1220
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 1994


  • breast cancer
  • personality
  • psychological well-being
  • psychosocial sequelae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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