Symptoms and rehabilitation needs of patients with early stage breast cancer during primary therapy

Cancer. 1990 Sep 15;66(6 Suppl):1392-401. doi: 10.1002/1097-0142(19900915)66:14+<1392::aid-cncr2820661415>;2-t.


The treatment for women diagnosed with early breast cancer is complex, dynamic, and controversial. More choices are available for local control and indications for systemic adjuvant therapy have changed dramatically. Knowledge of predictable physical and psychological responses through the various phases of primary treatment is the first critical element for the rehabilitation of these oncology patients. The health care provider can then anticipate problems, prepare the patient with accurate information, and institute interventions early to minimize symptoms. Information and psychological needs dominate the diagnostic phase, during which communication and emotional support are of paramount importance for decision making. Psychological distress persists through the treatment phase regardless of the choice of mastectomy or breast conservation surgery with radiation. The physical symptoms of these choices are similar, primarily related to the axillary lymph node dissection. Fatigue, breast soreness, sensation, and skin changes are common symptoms with breast irradiation that resolve over time. Nausea, vomiting, fatigue, hair loss, menopausal symptoms, and weight gain are predictable chemotherapy-related side effects and are reported as mild to moderately distressful by the majority of patients. Consistency of information, support, collaboration, coordination of care, and communication among patients and health care providers are essential to meet the challenge of successful treatment and rehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Breast Neoplasms / rehabilitation
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans