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Quality-of-Life Problems Linger for Young Women

August 17, 2012

Written By Robin Warshaw
Reviewed By Page Tolbert, LCSW

Women diagnosed with breast cancer at age 50 or younger continued to have physical and social problems a decade after diagnosis, a recent study showed. Surveys taken at the five- and 10-year mark suggest some problems worsened over time.

The study, published in Psycho-Oncology, was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Cancer Prevention Institute of California.

Background and Reason for the Study

Young women often receive aggressive treatment for breast cancer. This can produce long-term effects on quality of life, such as physical health and emotional well-being.

This study looked at a group of California women diagnosed at age 50 or younger. The women’s quality of life was previously assessed at five years past diagnosis.  

For this study, conducted 10 years after diagnosis, researchers wanted to see if problems the women experienced at the five-year mark persisted. Comparing concerns at those two points could help researchers understand which difficulties might affect quality of life as women age.

Study Structure

Five years after their diagnosis with breast cancer, women were interviewed in person for 90 minutes.

Ten years after diagnosis, 312 of the women who remained cancer-free were re-interviewed by telephone. About half had been diagnosed with local breast cancer and one-third with regional disease. Treatments included:

  • mastectomy (53%)
  • lumpectomy (47%)
  • chemotherapy with or without radiation (59%)
  • radiation with or without chemotherapy (54%)
  • tamoxifen (38%)

At 10 years past diagnosis:

  • 11% of the women were under 50; 78% were under 60
  • 60% were college graduates
  • 79% had a partner
  • 27% were non-Euro-American

Interviewers used scientific surveys to measure the women’s physical function, general health, surgical and hormonal symptoms, chronic conditions, social and emotional support, sexual activity, role relationships, self-esteem, body image concerns and mental health, among other issues.

Findings

Aspects of quality of life at 10 years after diagnosis were compared to those noted at the five-year mark.

Among the worsening changes women reported, the study found:

  • poorer general health
  • lower physical well-being
  • more chronic conditions
  • less sexual activity
  • less partner relationship satisfaction

The women reported no changes or significant differences in other areas, including:

  • surgical and hormonal symptoms
  • arm and shoulder problems
  • sexual problems
  • emotional support
  • size of social network
  • patient-doctor communication problems
  • mental well-being

They also had fewer work limitations and difficulties with partners not understanding them because of cancer.

The study also found a relationship between the number of chronic conditions at five years and decreased physical, social and psychological quality of life after 10 years. Having a smaller social network at five years was related to poorer social functioning 10 years after diagnosis.

The researchers noted that more investigation is needed to determine whether changes were due to “late effects of treatment or to normal effects of aging.”

What This Means for You

This study helps identify some problem areas for a group of women who were surveyed five years and 10 years after receiving their diagnoses. Knowing what caused concerns for them may help you in talking with your primary care doctor or oncologist about your own situation.

Your care team can help you take steps to reduce or eliminate the effects of chronic conditions, explore ways to strengthen your sex life, improve your physical well-being or widen your social network. One place to start is by working with your care team on a post-treatment care plan. If you’re not sure where to start, call (888) 753-LBBC (5222) or email our Breast Cancer Helpline to brainstorm questions for your providers. 

JR Bloom, SL Stewart, I Oakley-Girvan, et al. Quality of life of younger breast cancer survivors: persistence of problems and sense of well-beingPsycho-Oncology, 2012; 21(6): 655-665.

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.

Denver, CO  ·  September 13, 2014

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