AIM: This paper reports a study examining the relationships between demographic characteristics, social support, anxiety, coping and defence among women with possible breast cancer. BACKGROUND: Awaiting a possible breast cancer diagnosis is an anxiety-provoking situation that demands coping. Social support and demographic characteristics have been reported to influence coping and well-being, but the interconnection is insufficiently understood. DESIGN: A survey design was used, and self-administrated questionnaires were returned by a convenience sample of 117 women in Norway who had undergone breast biopsy. The data were collected from September 1998 to February 2000. INSTRUMENTS: The instruments consisted of: the Social Provisions Scale, State-Trait Anxiety Scale, Utrecht Coping List and Defence Mechanisms Inventory. In addition, data on age, level of education, employment, marital status, and household status were collected. RESULTS: Social support was positively related to instrumental-oriented coping and emotion-focused coping, unrelated to cognitive defence and defensive hostility. Educational level was positively related to instrumental-oriented coping. Educational level, employment and marital status were negatively related to cognitive defence. Educational level was the most important contributor to social support. Attachment and education were the most important contributors to instrumental-oriented coping, with education as the strongest predictor. CONCLUSION: Better coping was linked primarily to education, and secondly to attachment. Unemployment, low level of education and single/divorced/widowed status were related to greater use of cognitive defence. Women who used a defensive hostile style tended to receive poor social support. Nurses need to be aware of the influence of demographic characteristics on social support, coping and defence and to identify poor copers, as these patients are most in need of professional support.