Asian-American women are just as likely to develop breast cancer as European-American women but are far more likely to die as a result. Women of Asian descent also struggle with mental health issues because of their cancer but are not as likely to find culturally and socially assimilated mental health professionals as their non-Asian counterparts. Due to this, and other factors, breast cancer has become the leading cause of mortality for Asian-American women. Psychological health is crucial for recovery from physical illness, and the scant availability of Asian-American clinicians equipped to address the language barriers that accompany this group of women increases their risk for elevated physical and psychological symptoms. However, Qian Lu of the Department of Psychology at the University of Houston believes that there may be an avenue of treatment that could address the emotional turmoil of breast cancer while crossing cultural boundaries.
In a recent study, Lu and colleagues enlisted 19 Asian-American breast cancer survivors in an expressive writing program that required the participants to reveal their most intimate feelings and thoughts, positive and negative, regarding their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. The writing was completely confidential and allowed the participants to effectively express their deepest emotions without regard to language barriers, inconsistencies in translation or cultural nuances. The participants wrote for 3 weeks and underwent physical screenings at baseline and again 3 and 6 months after the exercise. The researchers found that the participants experienced improved physical health, and, more importantly, better overall psychological health, increased quality of life, and more energy. Additionally, the compliance rate was high, and the participants reported that they found the exercise to be very valuable to their recovery. “Our pilot study suggests that the expressive writing intervention is culturally sensitive in an Asian-American population and is associated with long-term improvement of health outcomes among Chinese breast cancer survivors,” said Lu. “Expressive writing interventions may have the potential to be utilized by other underserved populations with limited English fluency and cultural backgrounds that differ from non-Hispanic White groups.”