Long-term breast cancer survivors' symptoms and morbidity: differences by sexual orientation?

Ulrike Boehmer, Mark Glickman, Michael Winter, Melissa A Clark
Journal of Cancer Survivorship: Research and Practice 2013, 7 (2): 203-10

PURPOSE: Because little is known about morbidity and symptoms among sexual minority women with breast cancer, that is, lesbian or bisexual-identified women, and women with a preference for a woman partner, we examined differences by sexual orientation in long-term survivors' symptoms and morbidity, considering arm morbidity, systemic therapy side effects, hypertension, and number of comorbidities.

METHODS: From a state cancer registry, we recruited 257 heterosexual and 69 sexual minority women (SMW) with a diagnosis of primary, nonmetastatic breast cancer. To increase the number of SMW, we used convenience recruitment methods and obtained an additional 112 SMW who fit the same eligibility criteria as the registry-derived sample. Using a telephone survey, we collected demographic and self-reported data on arm morbidity and systematic therapy side effects, using the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life scale, QLQ-BR23 and a comorbidity measure developed for breast cancer survivors.

RESULTS: Sexual orientation was more strongly associated with arm morbidity and systemic side effects than with high blood pressure and comorbidities. Sexual orientation related indirectly to systemic side effects and arm morbidity through cancer treatments and some demographic factors.

CONCLUSIONS: Our finding that SMW respond more negatively to certain cancer treatments compared to heterosexual women suggests an opportunity to intervene with education and support for SMW breast cancer survivors for whom these life-saving treatments are necessary.

IMPLICATIONS FOR CANCER SURVIVORS: Because breast cancer survivors are at risk for multiple severe and persistent symptoms, assessing such symptoms is an important aspect of survivorship care. Cultural differences in perception of symptoms, communication issues, cultural barriers to reporting of symptoms, and different cultural norms about expressing pain or impairments have been established by studies. Knowledge about differences in impairment and symptoms by sexual orientation will help providers' efforts to provide high quality care to breast cancer survivors and may enhance cancer survivorship.

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