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Menopausal symptoms are a major problem for breast cancer survivors

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The development of breast cancer has a life-long impact on a women, even among those that are fortunate enough to not suffer a recurrence. A new study evaluate the prevalence and severity of menopausal symptoms in breast cancer survivors six years after their diagnosis. The findings were published online on March 10 in the journal Menopause.

The study group comprised 1,683 women who were recruited within 12 months of diagnosis with an invasive breast cancer. The women completed an enrollment questionnaire and five annual follow-up questionnaires. Included in the study were women who, at the fifth follow-up exam, had not suffered recurrent breast cancer or a new primary breast cancer (active disease) and were no longer taking oral adjuvant endocrine therapy (OAET). Women who had previously been recruited for a study of sex steroid levels served as a control group. The investigators evaluated menopausal symptoms were with the Menopause-Specific Quality of Life Questionnaire (MenQOL).

On average of 5.8 years after diagnosis, 843 women without active disease and not taking OAET completed the fifth follow-up questionnaire, Most of the women had stage I (59.5%) and hormone receptor-positive disease (77.9%) at the time of diagnosis and were postmenopausal (92.8%). Women aged 50 to 59 years were more likely to report any symptoms and more severe symptoms than both older and younger women. The researchers found no independent impact of chemotherapy on MenQOL vasomotor (hot flashes) and sexual domain scores. Women with breast cancer were found to have a significantly higher vasomotor domain and sexual domain scores than the women in the control group.

The authors concluded that vasomotor and sexual symptoms are highly prevalent in breast cancer survivors; furthermore, they are not simply a function of OAET or chemotherapy. The investigators noted that, given the adverse impact of these symptoms, effective interventions should be conducted to alleviate them in women who have completed their breast cancer treatment.

Take home message:
This study contradicts a study published last August in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. It found that over time breast cancer survivors returned to a quality of life comparable to women who had not suffered the devastation of breast cancer. A total of 285 women with breast cancer were included in the study, on average 12.5 years post-diagnosis. One can deduce from the new study that many breast cancer survivors do not enjoy a good quality of life. Thus, breast caner survivors who fall into this category should seek professional help from a gynecologist.