Breast cancer doesn’t have to lower quality of life

Once upon a time the diagnosis of breast cancer was viewed as a death sentence, but today that is no longer the case for most. Although, a key to surviving the disease is early diagnosis. In fact, the University of Toronto recently conducted a study that found most women are happy with their quality of life following breast cancer.1

A positive outlook
Researchers recognize that treatment for breast cancer – surgery, chemotherapy and radiation – can be trying for patients to deal with. However, Dr. Pamela Goodwin and associates wanted to take a closer look at how long symptoms of pain, nausea and fatigue affected a patient's well-being.

So, from 1989 through 1996, doctors from the University of Toronto touched base with 535 females who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Through the use of questionnaires, the researchers were able to track the women's quality of life. From 2005 to 2007, 285 of the patients who had survived breast cancer were asked to answer the same questions regarding sleeping patterns, pain levels, appetite and general health among other things.

"In general, the average quality of life in our patients was pretty much the same as women without breast cancer," Goodwin explained to Reuters Health.

However, this is not to dismiss the smaller group of women who continued to experience pain, fatigue and body image issues. Additionally, many of the participants experienced a decrease in financial satisfaction. Researchers contribute this to the fact that many patients work less, quit or are laid off following a breast cancer diagnosis.

"To me it's remarkable that the majority of women find ways to adapt and come out the other end quite strong," Goodwin acknowledged to the source.

Benefit for early mammograms
The National Cancer Institute recommends that women who are 40 and older have mammogram screenings every 1 to 2 years.2 However, new research has shown that females who have mammograms earlier may see health benefits. For many, this comes as a surprise, after the United States Preventive Service Task Force proposed to limit breast cancer screen to women aged 50 to 74.3

A group of professionals from Harvard Medical School studied 7,301 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1990 and 1999. It was found that 609 of the patients died from this disease, and 71 percent of them had not received routine or any breast cancer screening. Additionally, nearly half of those whose breast cancer was fatal were younger than 50, and only 13 percent were 70 or older.4 These findings may indicate that limiting mammograms to those who have gone through menopause may have deadly repercussions.

Although, researchers are quick to note that this does not indicate that women of all ages should be having screenings on a regular basis. Instead, it is recommended for females to talk to their doctors about how often they should receive mammograms upon reaching the age of 40. However, after their 50th birthdays, women should begin to have regular – every two years – screenings to detect the cancer. This may help to avoid over-diagnosis, while still catching breast cancer at early stages.

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1 Reuters, "Quality of life often good post-breast cancer" September 6, 2013
2 National Institutes of Health, "Fact sheet: mammograms"
3 EurekAlert!, "Study uncovers value of mammogram screening for younger women" September 9, 2013
4 LiveScience, "Breast cancer screening: New study suggests benefit of early mammograms" September 9, 2013

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