ShareThis Page
Breast cancer survivors report good quality of life, Canadian study finds |

Breast cancer survivors report good quality of life, Canadian study finds

NEW YORK — More than a decade after treatment, the average woman who has had breast cancer seems about as satisfied with her life as women who never had the disease, according to a Canadian study.

“It’s been recognized for a long time that in the very short term, breast cancer can adversely affect quality of life,” said senior author Dr. Pamela Goodwin of the University of Toronto.

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation can lead to pain, nausea and fatigue, but researchers did not know how long those effects usually last, Goodwin said.

She and her co-authors followed 535 women who filled out questionnaires on their quality of life when they were diagnosed with breast cancer and soon after, beginning between 1989 and 1996.

In 2005 to 2007, the 285 women who had survived cancer without a recurrence were brought back to answer the same questions, which addressed pain, sleep, appetite and general health, for example.

The researchers compared their answers to those from a group of women of a similar age with no history of breast cancer.

Among women with breast cancer, quality of life tended to improve in the year after diagnosis, and at the end of the study was largely equivalent to that of the comparison women, according to results published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Women who had had breast cancer rated their cognitive functioning and financial situation somewhat lower than other women — by 5 percent and 6 percent, respectively, which is a small difference, Goodwin said.

“The majority of patients with early-stage breast cancer are long-term survivors with little impact on longevity,” said Dr. Patricia Ganz, director of cancer prevention and control research at the University of California at Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health.

Based on previous research, she said, it has been known for some time that the 3 million breast cancer survivors in the United States more than five years past diagnosis generally have a good quality of life.

But positive outcomes like this tend not to be publicized as much as negative ones, Ganz, who was not involved in the research, told Reuters Health.

“In general, the average quality of life in our patients was pretty much the same as women without breast cancer,” Goodwin said.

“But I want to really emphasize that we’re talking about averages. I don’t ever want to discount the small group of women who may have ongoing symptoms,” such as pain, fatigue, swelling and severe body image issues, she said.

The proportion of women who experience persistent pain or swelling in the arm or chest wall is getting smaller during time as treatments improve, she added.

Women in both study groups rated their overall quality of life at a bit over 80 percent.

The difference in financial satisfaction might relate to employment, since some women choose to work less or stop working when diagnosed with breast cancer, or may even be laid off, Goodwin said.

Since the study was conducted in Canada, the financial cost of cancer treatment would have been almost negligible, she said, compared to the United States, where cancer treatment can leave survivors deeply in debt.

Women with a history of breast cancer rated their memory and ability to organize and plan activities slightly lower than their peers, which could be due to long-term effects of chemotherapy or might be a flaw in the questionnaire, researchers said. Breast cancer survivors tend to score as well as other women on direct cognition tests.

The post-breast cancer group reported less overall pain than the comparison group, possibly because the cancer patients adapted to higher levels of pain during treatment, Goodwin said.

Quality of life improved significantly during the first year after diagnosis, so women may not have to wait too long to see positive changes, which she said is reassuring.

“To me, it’s remarkable that the majority of women find ways to adapt and come out the other end quite strong,” she said.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.