Young Breast Cancer Survivors May Suffer
Psychological, Physical Problems May Persist for Younger Women
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
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
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
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.