Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Harry Prapavessis


Approximately 1 in 9 Canadian women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime (CCS, 2013). Over the past 30 years, population-based screening programs have contributed to decreased mortality rates (CCS, 2013), however the psychosocial sequelae associated with screening for breast cancer cannot be ignored (Holland et al., 2010). Although the majority of women screened will receive a benign diagnosis, the threat of malignancy can induce elevated levels of distress (Andrykowski et al., 2002).

We conducted a mixed methods pilot study to assess the feasibility and acceptability of a 6-week self-managed exercise behaviour change intervention to attenuate distress in women with suspected breast cancer during the peri-diagnostic phase (N = 7). Patients were recruited through the Breast Care Program of St. Joseph’s Hospital in London, Ontario. Facility-based exercise sessions and assessments were completed at the Exercise and Health Psychology Laboratory at the University of Western Ontario. Using concurrent mixed methods, we explored illness representations and coping responses among the women who participated in the program at one week and 12 weeks post-biopsy. Qualitative interviews were conducted with all participants at the one month follow-up study visit, and with clinic personnel at the recruitment site (N = 5).

Although the small sample size precludes computation of meaningful inferential statistics, self-reported exercise behaviour increased and subjective distress decreased from pre- to post-intervention. A deductive qualitative analysis revealed that exercising during the peri-diagnostic phase was an effective coping resource for these women. The inductive analysis revealed emergent themes that illuminated unique characteristics of this sample, e.g., resilience. The findings from this pilot study offer comprehensive insight into the challenges and future considerations associated with implementation of a self-managed exercise intervention for women with suspected breast cancer in the peri-diagnostic phase.