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Menopausal Symptoms, Chemo Side Effects Linked to Lower Quality of Life

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Some women diagnosed with breast cancer have a lower quality of life during and after treatment. For some of these women, the decrease in quality of life can last long after treatment is done and the cancer is in remission.

A study found that lower quality of life during and after breast cancer treatment was closely linked to two factors: menopausal symptoms and chemotherapy side effects. These results were presented at the 2010 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Breast Cancer Symposium.

Menopausal symptoms can bother many women whether or not they've been diagnosed with breast cancer. For women who already have menopausal symptoms, the physical and emotional toll of a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can make those symptoms worse. Chemotherapy and hormonal therapy -- both used to treat all stages of breast cancer -- can cause menopause in younger women and can worsen existing menopausal symptoms in older women because of the hormonal changes the treatments cause.

In this study, 86 women had been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer and 14 had been diagnosed with advanced-stage disease (100 women total). The women were all about 63 years old. The women received the following treatments:

  • 67% got radiation therapy
  • 40% got chemotherapy
  • 20% had breast reconstruction

The women were asked to fill out two questionnaires. One was the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Breast (FACT-B). FACT-B assesses quality of life factors during and after breast cancer treatment, including:

  • physical well-being: level of fatigue, for example
  • social well-being: relationships with others, for example
  • emotional well-being: mood, for example
  • functional well-being: ability to perform physical activities, for example

The other questionnaire was the Menopause Rating Scale (MRS). MRS assesses the effect of menopausal symptoms on a woman's physical, emotional, and sexual well-being.

The researchers compared each woman's quality of life FACT-B results and their menopausal effect MRS results to their medical and treatment histories.

Poor quality of life was most closely linked to troubling menopausal symptoms and chemotherapy treatment. The researchers calculated that these two factors accounted for nearly 70% of lower quality of life reported by the women.

Factors that affected quality of life much less included:

  • age
  • breast cancer stage
  • health insurance coverage

The researchers are still inviting women to participate in this study. Their aim is to gather information from a large number of breast cancer survivors to better understand the factors that affect quality of life for survivors. More information on these factors might help women and their doctors choose a treatment plan that makes the most sense for a particular woman and minimize effects on quality of life.

If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, you already may have had some decrease in your quality of your life. While some of the decrease may be unavoidable, it's worth talking to your medical team about your experiences. Together, you can see if there are ways to minimize the effect of treatment on your well-being.

In the Day-to-Day Matters section, you can find information on a number of issues that may affect your quality of life during and after breast cancer treatment, including:

  • pain
  • fatigue
  • menopausal symptoms
  • sex and intimacy
  • paying for your care

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