Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Renee Edwards


The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between patient-family communication and psychosocial adjustment to cancer. Cancer patients receiving radiation therapy (n = 105) were interviewed using a semi-structured format. The majority of female subjects were being treated for breast cancer and the majority of male subjects for prostate cancer. Questionnaires assessing psychosocial adjustment and patient-family communication were employed. Psychosocial adjustment was tapped by means of the Psychosocial Adjustment to Illness Scale (PAIS). The PAIS provides a global adjustment score and taps seven independent domains of adjustment: health care orientation, vocational environment, domestic environment, sexual relations, extended family relations, social environment, and psychological distress. A communication scale devised for this study assessed patient-family communication interactions through the communication constructs of frequency, encouragement, honesty, emotional support, and communication satisfaction. Analysis of the data indicated that interactions with immediate family members, especially spouses, were important factors in determining psychosocial adjustment. Multiple regression procedures revealed that emotional support and encouragement were the most important predictors of psychosocial adjustment. Independently, emotional support was the most important predictor affecting global adjustment as well as the domains of health care orientation, domestic adjustment, and psychological distress. Frequency of communication and honesty within the communication environment did not independently predict effective adjustment but the two constructs seemed to produce a stable environment in which the family could provide the patient with essential levels of emotional support and encouragement. The findings of the investigation suggest that family members were important means of social support. Well-adjusted patients indicated that interpersonal interactions with family members facilitated adjustment through emotional support, interest, reassurance, positive feedback, and encouragement. Thus, one can reasonably conclude that adjustment to the experience of cancer takes place in the home environment and that patient-family interactions are important for successful adjustment.