Di Giuseppe, Mariagrazia, Mario Miniati, Mario Miccoli, Rebecca Ciacchini, Graziella Orrù, Rosa Lo Sterzo, Annarita Di Silvestre, & Ciro Conversano (2020). Defensive responses to stressful life events associated with cancer diagnosis. Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 8(1). 22 pp. (Open Access: https://cab.unime.it/journals/index.php/MJCP/article/view/2384)

Abstract: Objectives: Stressful life events (SLEs) are common in patients who developed both physical and psychological syndromes. Research has shown the role of psychological defense mechanisms in cancer progression and survival probability. The present study analyzed recent SLEs and defense mechanisms as characteristic of cancer patients and tested their role as potential predisposing factors to cancer development. Methods: This cross-sectional study enrolled 145 participants: 48 recently diagnosed cancer patients (CP), 43 recently diagnosed benign tumor patients (BT), and 54 healthy subjects (HC). Non-blinded raters assessed participants’ defense mechanisms using the Defense Mechanisms Rating Scales Q-sort version (DMRS-Q). Groups were compared on the presence of SLEs and on the maturity of defensive functioning. Significant associations between SLE and defense mechanisms as related to cancer diagnosis were explored. Results: Higher overall defensive functioning was associated with good physical conditions. Recent SLEs, higher use of neurotic defenses and lower use of obsessional defenses characterized cancer patients. CP showed higher use of suppression, repression, dissociation, rationalization and passive aggression and lower use of affiliation, sublimation, undoing, and devaluation of self-image as compared to controls. Hierarchical regression analysis showed that recent SLEs and defense mechanisms of suppression, repression, dissociation, displacement and omnipotence were associated with cancer diagnosis. Discussion: Recent SLEs and repressive defensive functioning characterized the CP’s defensive response to stress. Despite the relevance of present findings, this study shows several limitations. Prospective and longitudinal studies are needed to confirm these results and to investigate the potential role played by SLEs and defense mechanisms in cancer development.

Mariagrazia Di Giuseppe <mariagrazia.digiuseppe@gmail.com> is in the Department of Surgical, Medical and Molecular Pathology, Critical and Care Medicine, University of Pisa, Tuscany, Italy.

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