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Cortisol levels in rural Latina breast cancer survivors participating in a peer-delivered cognitive-behavioral stress management intervention: The Nuevo Amanecer-II RCT



Compared to their White counterparts, Latina breast cancer survivors have poorer survival rates and health-related quality of life, and higher rates of depression and anxiety which may be a result of chronic stress. Chronic stress impacts the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, resulting in cortisol dysregulation which may be associated with breast cancer survival. However, cortisol levels and cortisol profiles of Latina breast cancer survivors are poorly characterized due to their underrepresentation in biomedical research.


The objective of this study was to describe cortisol levels and patterns of cortisol secretions in rural Latina breast cancer survivors participating in an RCT study of Nuevo Amanecer-II, an evidence-based peer-delivered cognitive behavioral stress management intervention.


Participant-centered recruitment and collection strategies were used to obtain biospecimens for cortisol analysis. Nine saliva samples (3/day for 3 days) and a hair sample were obtained at baseline and 6-months (3-months post-intervention). We describe cortisol levels and profiles, explore correlations of biomarkers with self-report measures of stress and psychological distress, and compare women who received the intervention with a delayed intervention group on biomarkers of stress. Mean hair cortisol concentration (HCC) was used to assess chronic stress. Based on daily measures of cortisol (awakening, 30 min post-awakening, and bedtime), we calculated three summary measures of the dynamic nature of the cortisol awakening response (CAR): 1) the CAR slope, 2) whether CAR demonstrates a percent change ≥40, and 3) total daily cortisol output (AUCg). Linear and log-binomial regression, accounting for multiple samples per participant, were used to compare cortisol measures at 6-month follow-up by treatment arm.


Participants (n = 103) were from two rural California communities; 76 provided at least one saliva sample at baseline and follow-up and were included in the analysis. At baseline, mean age was 57 years, mean years since diagnosis was 2 years, 76% had a high school education or less, and 34% reported financial hardship. The overall median CAR slope was 0.10, and median cortisol AUCg (in thousands) was 11.34 (range = 0.93, 36.66). Mean hair cortisol concentration was 1751.6 pg/mg (SD = 1148.6). Forty-two percent of samples had a ≥40% change in CAR. We found no statistically significant correlations between the cortisol measures and self-reported measures of stress and psychological distress. At follow-up, no differences were seen in HCC (mean difference between intervention and control: -0.11, 95% CI -0.48, 0.25), CAR slope (0.001, 95% CI -0.005, 0.008), cortisol AUCg (-0.15, 95% CI -0.42, 0.13), or ≥40% change in CAR (prevalence ratio 0.87, 95% CI 0.42, 1.77) between treatment arms.


Our findings of flattened cortisol profiles among more than half of the sample suggest potential HPA-axis dysregulation among rural Spanish-speaking Latina breast cancer survivors that merits further study due to its implications for long-term survival.

Trial registration identifier NCT02931552.

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