Life After Breast Cancer for Young Women

Breast cancer surgical choices impacted quality of life of young women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Being diagnosed with breast cancer at any age can be difficult. Several studies have suggested that breast cancer affects women under the age of 50 deeply because the disease can have an impact on fertility, appearance and sexuality.

A new study involving women from one cancer center found that, overall, young women who had been treated for breast cancer had an excellent quality of life.

The choice of surgery — whether it was a lumpectomy or surgical removal of one or both breasts — affected life after treatment the most, the study discovered.

"Discuss your entire cancer treatment plan with your healthcare team."

M. Catherine Lee, MD, a surgical oncologist in the Center for Women’s Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, directed this study that surveyed women who’d been treated for breast cancer at Moffitt.

Dr. Lee said in a prepared statement that Moffitt treats a high volume of younger women, under the age 50, which gave the researchers the ability to conduct this survey.

According to the authors, some 40,000 women under the age of 50 are diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s out of the estimated 232,340 women of all ages who will learn they have breast cancer this year.

Previous studies have suggested that "...younger women tend to suffer more psychological distress than older women and are more likely to be candidates for aggressive therapy affecting other aspects of quality of life (QOL), such as physical and sexual functioning at a time in life when sexual issues are important to themselves and their partners,” the authors reported in this study’s background.

A total of 300 breast cancer survivors were identified for this study, 143 of whom completed a 63-question survey that assessed how treatment had affected the woman’s health, financial situation, relationships, sexuality and appearance.

The average age at diagnosis among the respondents was just over 40 years, and the surveys were completed an average of about three years following the completion of treatment.

The vast majority (83 percent) of participants were married and 81 percent had one or more children.

Most of the respondents (88 percent) had undergone chemotherapy before or after surgery, and 70 percent had hormone therapy following surgery.

The survey was phrased in such a way that respondents indicated how a particular treatment interfered with quality of life in a specific area.

Women who had a mastectomy (removal of breast) with or without reconstruction reported significantly higher quality of life interference than women who had a lumpectomy (removal of tumor).

The removal of both breasts to help prevent breast cancer development is an operation known as contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM). Women who had a CPM, followed immediately by reconstruction, reported a significant impact on sexuality compared to women who had a CPM and delayed reconstruction or no CPM.

Radiation given after either a lumpectomy or mastectomy interfered substantially with quality of life, the study found, especially relating to appearance, sexuality, work and finance.

Chemotherapy did not affect any quality of life domain, the researchers discovered.

Breast cancer treatment did not interfere with the reproductive health of the young women, according to the survey findings.

Married women reported an overall higher quality of life than the unmarried women in terms of post-treatment appearance, sexuality or their relationship with their loved one.

“Our hope is that physicians and surgeons will take these findings into consideration when discussing treatment options and the impact on quality of life with their patients,” Dr. Lee said.

Findings from this study were published in the September issue of The American Journal of Surgery.

The research was supported by the Pain and Palliative Care Department at Moffitt Cancer Center.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 24, 2013
Last Updated:
October 25, 2013