Long-Term Breast Cancer Survivors Have Good Quality of Life

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Because of better diagnostic tests and treatments, women are living longer than ever after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Doctors wondered if the quality of life of women who were long-term survivors (10 years or more after diagnosis) was different from similar women who hadn’t been diagnosed.

A small study suggests that quality of life went up over time for long-term breast cancer survivors and was about the same as women who hadn’t been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The study was published online on Aug. 26, 2013 by the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Read the abstract of “Quality of Life in Long-Term Breast Cancer Survivors.”

The researchers gave quality-of-life questionnaires to 285 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer about 12.5 years earlier and 167 undiagnosed women who were similar, including in terms of age, menopausal status, and BMI (body mass index). The long-term survivors completed the questionnaires at diagnosis, 1 year after diagnosis, and about 12.5 years after diagnosis.

The questionnaires asked about the women’s:

  • ability to function physically
  • fatigue
  • other physical symptoms, such as pain, nausea, or problems sleeping
  • cognitive functioning, including the ability to concentrate and remember
  • emotional functioning, including depression, anxiety, and anger
  • social functioning, including relationships with friends and family and sexual relationships
  • finances

Overall, the researchers found that the long-term survivors had about the same quality of life as the women who hadn’t been diagnosed with breast cancer.

While the long-term survivors had lower quality of life in terms of social functioning and fatigue in the first year or two after diagnosis, these factors improved over time until they were similar to women who hadn’t been diagnosed.

The long-term survivors had slightly lower scores in cognition and finances than women who hadn’t been diagnosed, but the researchers said that these differences were subtle and that more research is necessary to understand why this is.

Overall, the results of this study are encouraging -- long-term breast cancer survivors can expect to have the same quality of life as women who haven’t been diagnosed with breast cancer.

If you’re a breast cancer survivor, it’s important to focus on what’s now most important: your good health, both emotionally and physically. There are steps you can take to make sure your quality of life is as good as it can be:

  • Have an excellent relationship with your doctor. A doctor who understands your situation, takes time to answer your questions, and truly is a partner in your care can make a big difference.
  • Have a good support network. The value of support from your family and friends is obvious, but support from other patients and survivors also is very powerful.
  • Stay in good physical shape. There is growing evidence that shows exercise (and a healthy diet) helps maintain both emotional and physical health during and beyond breast cancer treatment.
  • Stimulate your mind. Whether you do the daily crossword puzzle, play a video game, or read a book, challenging your brain helps it stay sharp.

Make a deal with yourself: you will do the best you can to love yourself, speak up for yourself, take care of yourself, and take advantage of the best care possible. There is only one of you and you deserve the best outcome possible!

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