Breast cancer can affect you how you feel within, whether you are recently diagnosed, under treatment or are a long-term survivor post-treatment. The patient has to go through an emotional strain of diagnosis, challenges of the treatment – Surgery, Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy and Hormonal Therapy, alongside coping up with the stress and demands of everyday life. The management of breast cancer for many patients may be similar, but the way it impacts your life is unique.
What is the Quality of Life in Breast Cancer Patients?
Breast Cancer is one of the leading causes of death after heart disease and lung cancer as evidenced by the number of increasing women who are affected by this disease annually. Breast cancer is an economic burden, with its cost of illness being comprised of direct cost, morbidity cost and mortality cost. Cancer expenditures are increasing at a similar rate to overall health costs.
Breast cancer patients experience both Physical Symptoms and Psychosocial Distress that affects their quality of life. “Quality of life” describes your overall wellbeing, including:
- Mental and physical health
- Ability to perform daily roles
- Sexual function
- Fatigue and other side effects of treatment.
Non-Health-related issues (such as financial concerns) are also a part of their quality of life. Managing side effects and other issues that have a negative impact on your quality of life is an important part of breast cancer care.
Quality of Life (QOL) generally consists of a number of domains including Physical functioning, Psychological well-being (levels of anxiety and depression), and Social support. A patient experience may vary, but generally, includes the: Diagnosis, Primary treatment, Genetic risk and its Psychological management, special issues related to non-invasive breast cancer, recurrence, completing treatment and re-entry to normal living, survivorship, and palliation for advanced cancer. For example, chemotherapy is one form of treatment that causes physical and psychological problems, thereby affecting the quality of life. Many patients have questions which they fear asking their physician or surgeon.
Management of Breast Cancer
There have been many changes towards an approach to management of breast cancer. Two major changes that have occurred over the past few decades are:
- Recognition that the patient's well-being is important to cancer treatment
- Use of Quality of life and psychosocial questionnaires to assess their well-being
Many breast cancer survivors report a good quality of life, but patients may have some long-term side effects like:
- Hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms
- Chronic breast pain
- Loss of sex drive.
How can one improve the Quality of Life of Breast cancer patients?
Many types of research are going on to find ways of improving the quality of life. For example, exercise may improve mood, fatigue and social wellbeing in survivors. Social support may also improve quality of life for breast cancer survivors as it may change a person’s perspective.
Patients may have a stronger sense of spirituality or faith and a more hopeful view that may increase pleasure in life. Getting involved and being a survivor puts one in a unique position to help others affected by it. After treatment ends, there are many ways one can be a part of the breast cancer community survivors through research, community work or advocacy efforts.
Few patients may be not willing to share their concern about disease, treatment, and psychological problems. Healthcare providers, on the other hand, may seldom inquire about the patients well being. However, if physicians were not concerned about their patients' outcomes, there would be no reason for follow-up visits. Oncologists, nurses, and psychosocial staff agree that QOL is an important variable to consider in cancer treatment. Employing the patients' views into the decision process would not only empower patients but also could improve satisfaction and compliance with treatment.
To conclude, Quality of life assessment has found acceptability among physicians, nurses, and psychosocial staff for several reasons. It benefits breast cancer patients because they provide insights into life domains that are usually unaddressed, including a patient's mental health, emotional well-being, family and social relations, and abilities to maintain a career, uphold finances, and pursue leisure activities. This knowledge is significant because many breast cancer patients stress that quality of life is just as important, if not more important, than the quantity of life.