Then and now: quality of life of young breast cancer survivors

Psychooncology. 2004 Mar;13(3):147-60. doi: 10.1002/pon.794.


Background: Women under age 50, a quarter of all cases of breast cancer, are especially vulnerable to physical and psychosocial late effects of their treatment due to having more aggressive treatment and their relative youth.

Methods: In person interviews were conducted with the population-based sample: 185 women who were under 50 at diagnosis and were cancer-free 5 years later. Quality of life in the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual domains was assessed and compared with results obtained a few months after diagnosis.

Results: Five years after diagnosis, 92% rated their health as good or excellent, and only 10% said their health had been getting worse. Between baseline and 5 years, there were significant improvements in surgical symptoms, body image, worry about the future, patient-physician communication, intrusiveness of treatment, and all of the SF-36 measures except for general health. There were significant decreases in emotional support and the size of one's social network. More women were now menopausal (75% due to treatment) and there were fewer children at home. There were no significant changes in employment status, marital/partner status, sexual activity, sexual problems, self-esteem, and attendance at religious services or frequency of prayer. In multivariate models, a greater increase in physical quality of life was associated with reporting fewer chronic conditions, being employed, having been treated by chemotherapy and fewer had no children under age 18 living at home. A greater increase in mental quality of life was associated with fewer chronic conditions and a smaller decrease in emotional support.

Conclusions: Five years after diagnosis, young breast cancer survivors who remained cancer-free enjoyed good health and improved quality of life. Nonetheless, physical, social, and psychological concerns must be addressed so that young breast cancer survivors will continue to be resilient as they age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Quality of Life*
  • Social Support
  • Survivors / psychology*