Cancer Survivors Enjoying the Good Life

Breast cancer survivors report essentially the same quality of life as matched controls

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D Chris Galloway, M.D. Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Women who have beaten breast cancer, thankfully, are living longer these days. So what sorts of challenges do ladies who are years past breast cancer face? Are they different from the challenges other women in the same age group face? The news is good.

For the most part, long-term breast cancer survivors reported the same quality of life as their counterparts who had no cancer history, according to a new study.

There are two exceptions, though. Breast cancer survivors tend to have more cognitive (thinking) and financial issues than their peers of the same age.

"Take an active role in your own health care."

Tina Hsu, of the University of Toronto, and colleagues surveyed long-term breast cancer survivors about their quality of life years.

There's a great deal of interest in assessing quality of life now that breast cancer survivors are living longer than ever before.

According to the study's background, the five-year breast cancer survival rate jumped from 75 percent in the mid-1970s to 90 percent in the years 2002-2008. 

In 2011, there were 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the US, up from 2.4 million survivors in 2005.

For this study, a total of 285 breast cancer survivors completed quality of life surveys right after their breast cancer diagnosis, a year later and then about 12 years later.

The ladies’ responses were compared to 167 women of the same age without a history of breast cancer who were undergoing screening mammograms.

All of the women completed surveys that asked them questions regarding their emotional, physical, social and cognitive functioning, personal and professional relationships and fatigue.

In general, women who had beaten breast cancer reported significant improvements in overall quality of life one year after their diagnosis and additional improvements in the years that followed.

The biggest area of improvement, the researchers found, was seen in how the survivors got back into the swing of life in their work, household, social, family and educational roles. At one year, these quality of life areas for long-term breast cancer survivors were similar to those of the general population.

As has been seen in other studies, the survivors reported more challenges with cognitive functions. The scores in this area were 5.3 percent lower than in the women who served as controls (comparisons).

Differences were also seen in the area of finances, with a 6.3 percent deficit between survivors and their cancer-free peers.

“Long-term breast cancer survivors show improvement in many domains of quality of life over time, and they appear to have similar quality of life in most respects to age-matched noncancer controls, although small deficits in cognition and finances were identified,” the authors concluded.

"This article reveals two important points. First is approximately 90 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer will be alive after five years, therefore most women will survive their breast cancer and more efforts should be toward survivorship of their disease. The second point is the remarkable resilience of patients with breast cancer as seen by their quality of life in most respects returning to normal," Rob Fuller, MD, surgical oncologist with Capital Surgeons Group, told dailyRx News.

Findings from this study were published August 26 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

This research was supported by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance, and the Medical Research Council. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
August 30, 2013
Last Updated:
October 11, 2013