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Living with the legacy of breast cancer

Consumer Reports News: April 07, 2011 07:38 AM

More women now survive breast cancer than ever before. However, that does leave increasing numbers of women living with the legacy of surviving breast cancer, including the worry about the cancer coming back.

While some worry is probably unavoidable, this worry becomes such a burden for some women that they become depressed. Others may check their breasts obsessively for lumps, or even refuse to attend check-ups for fear of hearing bad news.

So doctors want to know which women are most likely to suffer from excessive worry, and see what, if anything, can be done to help.

A study of 2,290 women who’d survived breast cancer gave some interesting results. It found that, with regard to ethnic group, African American women were least likely to report excessive worry. Latina women—especially those who were described as less assimilated into U.S. society—had the highest levels of anxiety. The reported anxiety results for white women were somewhere in between these two groups.

Other factors that affected excess worry were having had a lot of pain or fatigue during treatment, being younger, and having had radiation therapy. On the plus side, women who’d had their symptoms well-controlled during treatment, who’d been easily able to understand the information they’d been given, and who thought their care had been well coordinated, were less likely to suffer excess anxiety.

The findings suggest that good symptom control, good information, and a good relationship with the team providing care may help not just during treatment, but also in the months and years of recovery.

Bottom line: If you’re facing breast cancer, it’s important to have a good relationship with the team caring for you, so that you understand what’s happening and have your symptoms well-controlled. This can affect not just how you feel at the time, but also how you get along after your recovery.

Read more about breast cancer survival rates and treatments (available to subscribers).

Correlates of worry about recurrence in a multiethnic population-based sample of women with breast cancer [Cancer]

Anna Sayburn, BMJ Group has partnered with The BMJ Group to monitor the latest medical research and assess the evidence to help you decide which news you should use.

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