Background: Although mortality rates from breast cancer are declining, many breast cancer survivors will experience physical and psychological sequelae that affect their everyday lives. Few prospective studies have examined the rehabilitation needs of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, and little is known about the predictors of health-related quality of life (QOL) in this population.
Methods: Between 1987 and 1990, 227 women with early stage breast cancer participated in a prospective longitudinal study in which detailed information was collected through interviews, standardized measures of QOL and psychological distress, and clinical evaluation. Comparisons of physical and treatment-related problems were made according to type of surgical treatment. Multivariate regression analysis was performed to examine the predictors of QOL at one year after surgery.
Results: Physical and treatment-related problems were reported frequently one month after breast cancer surgery, and occurred with equal frequency in women receiving modified radical mastectomy or breast conservation treatment. There were no significant differences in problems reported at one year by type of surgery; however, frequently reported problems include 'numbness in the chest wall or axilla,' 'tightness, pulling or stretching in the arm or axilla,' 'less energy or fatigue,' 'difficulty in sleeping,' and 'hot flashes'. There was no relationship between the type of surgery and mood or QOL. Poorer QOL one year after surgery was significantly associated with greater mood disturbance and body image discomfort one month after surgery, as well as positive lymph node involvement. Although the majority of patients experienced substantial disruptions in the physical and psychosocial dimensions of QOL post-operatively, most women recovered during the year after surgery, with only a minority (<10%) significantly worsening during that time.
Conclusions: At one year after surgery, most women report high levels of functioning and QOL, with no relationship between the type of surgery and QOL. Women who reported lower levels of QOL at one year after diagnosis had greater mood disturbance and poorer body image one month after surgery, as well as lower income and positive axillary nodes.