Background: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women younger than age 50 years. Cancer treatments in younger women may cause premature menopause, infertility, and negative psychosocial effects. In this systematic review, we examined three key domains of functioning that are particularly relevant for younger breast cancer survivors: health-related quality of life (QOL), menopausal symptoms and fertility concerns, and behavioral health outcomes.
Methods: We conducted a literature review using PubMed and secondary sources and examined 840 articles published between January 1990 and July 2010. Inclusion criteria for articles were 1) published in English after 1989; 2) exclusively analyzed female breast cancer survivors aged 50 years or younger or premenopausal at diagnosis, with baseline characteristics and/or quantitative or descriptive analyses for this age group; 3) investigated QOL (health-related QOL including physical functioning and mental health, depression, and anxiety), menopause- or fertility-related concerns, and weight gain or physical activity-related behavioral health outcomes. Data were extracted using a standardized table collecting the purpose, design, population, and results of each study. Extracted data were reviewed for accuracy by two investigators and presented as descriptive tables.
Results: A total of 28 articles met the inclusion criteria (15 cross-sectional studies, eight longitudinal studies, and five randomized trials). Regarding data review, no discordance between investigators was noted. Standardized measures of QOL and depressive symptoms identified worse outcomes as being more frequent or severe in breast cancer survivors aged 50 years or younger when compared with the general age-matched population of women without cancer and to older women (aged >50 years) with breast cancer. Concerns about premature menopause, menopausal symptoms, and infertility were common in younger women (aged ≤ 50 years) and had a role in the level of distress after treatment. Weight gain and physical inactivity were common health outcomes in younger women.
Conclusions: Younger women with breast cancer were found to experience distinct psychosocial and menopause-related concerns, weight gain, and physical inactivity. A need for more longitudinal research, including efforts at intervention to manage these symptoms and adverse health outcomes, remains.