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The Fallout From Breast Cancer Therapy

Physical symptoms affect many women after treatment, study finds

TUESDAY, March 2, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A new study on the physical and mental health of women after treatment for breast cancer found that most have a normal level of emotional well-being. Yet they tend to experience a broad range of physical problems.

These are particularly pronounced in women who've had chemotherapy or mastectomies, says the study in the March 3 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"In general, oncology clinicians prepare women for the acute toxicity of breast cancer treatments, but clinicians have had only limited data on the physical and psychosocial sequelae of primary treatments. Indeed, little is known about the pattern of recovery after the end of treatment," write the study authors.

Lead author Dr. Patricia A. Ganz of the University of California, Los Angeles Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and her colleagues used surveys to collect information on the health status and quality of life of 558 women who just had surgery for breast cancer.

The survey questions asked the women about their quality of life, mood, symptoms and sexual functioning. The researchers analyzed the results as a whole and by the type of breast cancer treatment: mastectomy plus chemotherapy; lumpectomy plus chemotherapy; mastectomy without chemotherapy; and lumpectomy without chemotherapy.

All the women had similar mood and emotional functioning at the end of their primary treatment. There was little evidence of a depressed mood or negative effect.

Women who had mastectomies reported the poorest physical functioning. Sexual functioning was worse for women who received chemotherapy than for those who did not, regardless of the type of surgery.

Women in all the treatment groups reported a number of physical symptoms, including aches and pains, vaginal dryness, hot flashes and night sweats.

"It is clear that more attention must be paid to the symptoms that women report at the end of treatment because they are associated with poorer physical and emotional well-being," the authors write.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about breast cancer.

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, news release, March 2, 2004
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