, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 183-199

Breast cancer survivors: Psychosocial concerns and quality of life

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Abstract

Purpose

To describe the psychosocial concerns and quality of life of breast cancer survivors evaluated 2 and 3 years after primary treatment.

Methods

A sample of 139 breast cancer survivors who had been interviewed during the first year after primary treatment participated in a mailed survey at 2 years (N = 69) and 3 years (N = 70) after initial surgery. A random sample of these survivors were also interviewed in person. The mailed questionnaire included standardized instruments to assess quality of life (QL), rehabilitation needs, and psychological distress. Additional survey questions were developed to examine post-surgical recovery, employment and insurance problems. social support, and existential concerns. The in-person interviews expanded on these questions and systematically compared these patients' rehabilitation needs to those which existed at the time of an interview 1 year after surgery.

Results

The 2 and 3 year participants in this follow-up study did not differ from each other on their prior assessments with standardized QL instruments during the first year after surgery, nor did they differ from the full study sample of 227 women. The scores on the Profile of Mood States and the Functional Living Index-Cancer were the same for the 2 and 3 year survivor groups and did not differ from the previous assessments at 1 year after initial treatment. The scores on the Cancer Rehabilitation Evaluation System showed a significant decline in Global Quality of Life, Sexual Functioning and Marital Functioning between the 1 year and 3 year evaluations. For the 2 year sample only Sexual Functioning showed a deterioration between the 1 and 2 year evaluations. Using the RAND 36-Item Health Survey 1.0, the breast cancer survivors were compared with patients from the Medical Outcomes Study. The breast cancer survivors demonstrated higher levels of functioning in many dimensions (role functioning, social functioning, pain, and general health) than the patients with chronic medical conditions. In spite of relatively good physical and emotional functioning on this generic measure of health status and quality of life, these breast cancer survivors reported a number of important and severe rehabilitation problems that persisted beyond one year after primary treatment. Especially frequent were problems associated with physical and recreational activities, body image, sexual interest, sexual function, and problems with dating for those who were single.

Conclusions

Breast cancer survivors appear to attain maximum recovery from the physical and psychological trauma of cancer treatment by one year after surgery. A number of aspects of QL and rehabilitation problems worsen after that time. Nevertheless, breast cancer survivors rate their QL more favorably than outpatients with other common medical conditions, and they identify many positive aspects from the cancer experience.