How did women with breast cancer experience the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic? A qualitative study

Support Care Cancer. 2021 Oct;29(10):5721-5727. doi: 10.1007/s00520-021-06089-w. Epub 2021 Mar 16.


Objective: The ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic is a stressful experience that is particularly likely to negatively affect cancer patients. The goal of this qualitative study was to explore how breast cancer patients experienced the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Methods: As part of a larger study, 23 women accepted to take part in an individual phone interview investigating the psychosocial consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results: The hybrid inductive-deductive thematic analysis revealed the following themes: (1) increased general psychological distress; (2) concerns about the impact of treatment-related immunosuppression (i.e., increased risk of catching the SARS-CoV-2 and of developing more severe complications); (3) higher risk of catching the SARS-CoV-2 in the hospital; (4) possible impact of changes in cancer care trajectory on prognosis; (5) distress related to going to treatment alone; (6) social isolation and decreased family relationships; (7) increased responsibility at home; (8) variety of coping strategies used (i.e., adherence to public health measures, seeking professional help, avoidance); (9) difficulty receiving professional mental health services and social support; (10) anxiety related to return to work; and (11) uncertainty about the future.

Conclusions: The COVID-19 outbreak is a major medical, psychological, social, and occupational stressor for women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. We offer recommendations to reduce the impact of subsequent waves of COVID-19 and other epidemics in this population.

Keywords: COVID-19; Cancer; Epidemic; Qualitative analysis; SARS-CoV-2.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Breast Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2