Older women's experience with breast cancer treatment: A systematic review of qualitative literature

Breast. 2020 Dec;54:293-302. doi: 10.1016/j.breast.2020.11.009. Epub 2020 Nov 16.


Background: The experience of older women during breast cancer treatment is insufficiently described by quantitative studies. This study aimed to systematically review qualitative data describing factors that influence older women's (≥65 years old) experience with breast cancer treatment.

Methods: A systematic review was performed in accordance with Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-analysis Protocols (PRISMA) principles. MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, and EMBASE were searched (inception - 2020). Quality assessment of essential item reporting was performed using the Standards for Reporting Qualitative Research (SRQR) criteria. Common ideas were coded, thematically organized, and synthesized within a theoretical framework.

Results: Of 7,773 studies identified, twelve were included. The median SRQR score was 13.4 (range 11.3-15.9) (maximum score: 21). Data synthesis revealed that older women experienced breast cancer as a journey with challenges during each phase. During diagnosis, they delayed seeking medical help despite symptoms. Age and experience gave them perspective on the impact of their diagnosis. During decision-making, preconceptions and personal values determined choices. In the treatment phase, women experienced medical and social barriers to care. During the post-treatment phase, many experienced treatment adverse effects, but could move on or compartmentalize as coping mechanisms.

Conclusion: Older women with breast cancer have unique challenges specific to each phase of their treatment journey. Older women may benefit from proactive treatment discussions with health care providers to address their specific needs, individualize care, and assist with cancer care navigation.

Keywords: Aged; Breast neoplasms; Clinical decision-making; Decision making.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antineoplastic Protocols*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research