Breast cancer: relationship between menopausal symptoms, physiologic health effects of cancer treatment and physical constraints on quality of life in long-term survivors

Pamela N Schultz, Mary Jean Klein, Martha L Beck, Charles Stava, Rena V Sellin
Journal of Clinical Nursing 2005, 14 (2): 204-11

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study is to describe the relationship between menopausal symptoms, physiologic health effects of cancer treatment and the physical contributors to quality of life in long-term survivors of breast cancer.

BACKGROUND: The treatment of menopausal symptoms is hotly debated, especially for women with breast cancer. Common treatments for menopausal symptoms are considered to be contraindicated in women with breast cancer.

DESIGN: This is a descriptive, cross-sectional study of long-term breast cancer survivors; a subset of a study that responded to a mailed survey targeting long-term cancer survivors treated at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

METHODS: In 291 breast cancer patients information was available that included items that commonly relate to menopausal symptoms including hot flushes, painful sexual intercourse, inability to concentrate, fatigue and sleep disturbances.

RESULTS: Ninety per cent were Caucasian American and the mean time since diagnosis was 16 +/- 8 years. All patients had been treated with surgery, (60%) with radiotherapy, (68%) with chemotherapy and (37%) with hormonal therapy. Forty-six per cent of the breast cancer survivors indicated that having breast cancer affected their overall health. Self-reported health effects were more common in those survivors who had received a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. A menopausal quality of life score was determined using the items about hot flushes, ability to concentrate, painful sexual intercourse, fatigue, unhappiness and sleep disturbances.

CONCLUSIONS: This study reminds us that breast cancer and menopause are independent issues. Quality of life parameters need to be rigidly defined and time sensitive. There are complex interactions between quality of life indicators and specific physiologic consequences of treatment. However, menopausal signs and symptoms may not be different for the breast cancer survivor and they should not be confused with the quality of life/psychosocial issues of the cancer survivor.

RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Menopause is not a disease process but a normal developmental stage for women. It is important for nurses not only to understand the client needs of the menopausal woman, but also to be able to differentiate between quality of life issues related to menopause and to cancer treatment in order to provide holistic nursing care.

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