After Diagnosis, Daughter May Find Relationship With Mother Deepens

Breast Cancer News
March 12, 2014
Robin Warshaw, Contributing Writer
Reviewed By: 
Cynthia Moore, PhD

More than half of young women diagnosed with breast cancer reported that their diagnosis had a favorable impact on their relationships with their mothers, a recent study found.

Yet, while half said their mothers could have given more support, many thought their mothers needed support as well.


After a breast cancer diagnosis, young women may face challenges related to treatments, fertility, partner concerns, jobs, education plans, child care, finances and more. The need for emotional support is great.

Those in their 20s and 30s often have mothers who could help provide psychological and other types of support, but some mother-daughter relationships are more supportive than others. Mothers also may experience emotional distress from their daughters’ diagnoses.

Researchers wanted to find out what factors may predict how a breast cancer diagnosis influences the mother-daughter relationship and to identify mothers’ support needs.

Healthcare providers can better help young women and their mothers by understanding what happens to their relationship after diagnosis, the researchers suggest. Their study is the first to explore this.

Study Structure

Researchers used a Toronto cancer center database to identify women diagnosed at age 40 or younger, whose mothers were alive when they were diagnosed.

Participants answered a survey about their pre- and post-diagnosis relationships with their mothers. Information about breast cancer stage, treatments, family history and genetic counseling was taken from the database.


About half of the 90 daughters studied were of Asian, Middle Eastern, black or non-European (white) races/ethnicities. All participated in the study within 4 years of breast cancer diagnosis.

The daughters were diagnosed at ages

  • 20-24 years old– 2
  • 25-29 years old– 9
  • 30-34 years old– 27
  • 35-40 years old– 52

and were

  • married or partnered – 68 percent
  • single or never married – 24 percent
  • separated or divorced – 8 percent
  • had children – 56 percent

Survey results showed most daughters (92 percent) told their mothers they had breast cancer; some mothers were present at the time of diagnosis. Mothers who were not told all lived in a different country.

A little over half of all daughters said they turned to their mothers for emotional support in the year prior to diagnosis. Nearly all of these daughters did the same after diagnosis. Among the women who did not turn to their mothers for support pre-diagnosis, only 22 percent did afterwards.

No matter what kind of relationship they had prior to diagnosis, daughters were more likely to seek out mothers’ support after diagnosis than in the year before. Fifty-four percent of daughters reported that their diagnoses favorably impacted their relationship with their mothers. They felt closer, valued each other more, and noticed their mothers more often listening, showing affection and being sensitive to their needs. 

A slightly smaller group of daughters (43 percent) felt the relationship with their mother was unchanged. Only 3 percent felt more distant.

Mothers provided both practical (grocery shopping, child care) and emotional (talking, listening) support to daughters. About 20 percent of daughters felt guilty about hurting their mothers with the news of their diagnosis, and about 25 percent believed their mothers felt responsible to some extent. One-third thought their mothers didn’t have enough psychosocial support of their own related to the diagnosis.

What This Means for You

After a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s important to find emotional and practical support. Turning to your mother may be an immediate response or a decision you take time to consider.

When asked to give advice to other young women with breast cancer, study participants shared the following:

  • Consider your mother’s feelings as she tries to care for you and cope with her own emotions.
  • Be honest with your mother about your feelings and needs.
  • Enjoy the relationship.
  • Show love and appreciation.

You may feel disappointed by your mother’s response to your diagnosis. It may help to be mindful of what support any one person can provide. Recognize your needs and find the best person to help.

The young women surveyed in the study also advised mothers to

  • support their daughter every way possible
  • stay optimistic and strong
  • accept help and support for themselves

Learn more about telling others about your breast cancer diagnosis and consider reaching out to our Helpline for support.

Ali, A, Fergus, K, Wright, FC et al. The Impact of a Breast Cancer Diagnosis in Young Women on Their Relationship With Their Mothers. The Breast. 2013; doi:10.1016/j.breast.2013.10.004

This article was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number DP11-1111 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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