Study Explores Quality of Life After Breast Cancer Diagnosis for Young Black Women
A review of 20 years of studies looking at quality of life after breast cancer diagnosis showed that young black women have greater physical and psychosocial challenges than do other women.
The findings appeared in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.
Breast cancer and its treatment can change a person’s life. Living with anxiety, fatigue or other side effects, having doctor’s appointments disrupt daily schedules, and other changes influence how people feel from diagnosis through treatment and for the rest of their lives. These factors can affect the physical, social, psychological and spiritual areas of a person's life, areas that are together called a person's well-being.
Although black women and white women are diagnosed with breast cancer at about the same rate, black women are often younger when diagnosed. They are more likely to have breast cancer subtypes that need chemotherapy, which can lead to poorer quality of life because of side effects. Black women are also more likely to die of the disease.
Throughout their lives, black women may experience higher stress related to cultural factors such as feeling the need to appear strong, having family responsibilities, and facing financial concerns. This may affect quality of life for those diagnosed with breast cancer, when emotional and physical strength, time and money are needed for treatment.
Previous studies have looked at quality of life in black women, but did not specifically study young black women or look beyond 5 years after diagnosis. The researchers of this study wanted to identify how the lives of young black women were changed over time by their breast cancer experiences.
The scientists evaluated research published from 1995 to 2015. After looking at the full-text of 387 articles, only six articles had enough data on racial differences in the physical, psychological, social or spiritual effects of breast cancer treatment to be included in this study. The review looked at these factors in black women younger than 50 who were diagnosed with breast cancer.
The study found, overall, that young black women have a poorer quality of life after diagnosis, due to treatment and its physical and social side effects, compared to older black women, younger white women and older white women. Their quality of life is also worse than that of young black women who never had breast cancer.
Compared to others, young black women diagnosed with breast cancer had
- greater fear of dying
- more pain, tiredness and other physical problems
- more stress about money, paying bills and managing family responsibilities
- more need for supportive care from people who understand young black women’s specific needs, such as peer support counselors
Although only one of the reviewed studies looked at spiritual well-being, the results were positive. Women in the study showed high levels of spirituality: 50 percent said their diagnosis positively changed their outlook for the future and 18 percent said their spirituality and religious faith got stronger.
The researchers noted that, given the limited number of studies available, more research is needed on young black women’s experiences after diagnosis. They also said providers should check regularly for signs of distress such as depression and financial worries, especially in these women, in order to get more people the help they need beyond their cancer treatment.
What This Means for You
Identifying and talking about your specific needs can help you and your healthcare team find ways for you to have the best quality of life possible. Asking for help is a strength. Talk with your healthcare provider about how your physical and mental health has been affected since your breast cancer diagnosis. Your provider can help with medical issues and refer you for other support services.
You may want to talk about your emotional and financial concerns with an oncology social worker or a talk therapist. Look for someone who is culturally sensitive to you and your life. Your doctor’s office can refer you to professionals in your area. LBBC’s Breast Cancer Helpline can connect you to peer emotional support and practical information.
Samuel AS, Pinheiro LC, Reeder-Hayes KE, et al. To be young, Black, and living with breast cancer: a systematic review of health-related quality of life in young Black breast cancer survivors. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2016; doi: 10.1007/s10549-016-3963-0.
This article was supported by the Grant or Cooperative Agreement Number 1 U58 DP005403, funded by 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 or the Department of Health and Human Services.