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Young Breast Cancer Survivors May Suffer

Psychological, Physical Problems May Persist for Younger Women
By
WebMD Health News

Nov. 21, 2003 -- Most women under 50 who survive breast cancer will go on to live fulfilling lives with good physical health, according to a survey of younger breast cancer survivors.

But those women diagnosed with breast cancer at the youngest ages, between 25 and 34, are more likely to suffer from persistent psychological and physical problems long after breast cancer treatment.

Researchers say breast cancer is generally a disease of older women, and only about 25% of cases are diagnosed in women under 50 years old. But the growing number of women in this age group in the U.S. and a decline in breast cancer deaths has prompted a rise in the number of younger breast cancer survivors.

Young Breast Cancer Survivors Face Challenges

Previous studies have shown that adapting to life after breast cancer is more difficult for younger women, but researchers say this is the first large, multi-ethnic study to look at what younger breast cancer survivors are experiencing.

In this study, researchers surveyed 577 women who were under 50 when they were first diagnosed with breast cancer.

The results, published in the Nov. 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, show that physical functioning and overall quality of life was quite good across the group an average of six years after their diagnosis. But younger women experienced poorer mental health and less vitality in the years following breast cancer treatment.

"There is a positive message here that overall function is going to be good for the majority of younger women who survive breast cancer. Yet there are subgroups who may be at more risk for problems," says researcher Patricia Ganz, MD, director of the division of cancer prevention and control at the UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center, in a news release. "The youngest women report persistent energy loss and psychological difficulties. They are a group doctors and others need to target for intervention."

Researchers say young breast cancer survivors may face special challenges due to treatment-induced menopause and loss of fertility, which may become apparent in later years.

"At first it is hard because the only thing you can focus on is getting through the treatments -- and hanging on to your life," says study participant Cynthia Lauren, in a news release. Lauren was 37 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"But once that is over, you begin to realize the more subtle changes and losses that come along with the diagnosis. For me, I lost my fertility, but I didn't really get to deal with it until later," says Lauren.

The study also showed that African-American women, married or partnered women, and women with better emotional or physical functioning were more likely to report a higher quality of life than other women.

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