Quality of Life in Older Women with Breast Cancer

A number of studies suggest that older women adjust to breast cancer better than younger women. In a study of 304 women immediately after completion of therapy for early-stage breast cancer, Wenzel et al. compared quality of life (QOL) among women age 50 or younger to women over age 50. QOL was evaluated using standardized measures, including the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy - Breast instrument, the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, and the Impact of Event Scale. In this study, QOL was significantly worse for younger women globally (p = 0.021) and with regard to domains of emotional well-being (p = 0.0002) and breast carcinoma-specific concerns (p = 0.022). Furthermore, symptoms of depression (p = 0.041) and disease-specific intrusive thoughts (p = 0.013) were significantly worse for younger women. Of note, no significant sexual dysfunction or body image differences were noted between older and younger women. Although elderly women who survive breast cancer seem to cope better than their younger counterparts, their distress must not be overlooked. Older women are more likely to have decreased social support, limitations in physical and cognitive functioning, and significant comorbidity. Furthermore, rates of depression are high in elderly populations, particularly when faced with a serious illness. Interventions, such as use of social support, spirituality, and exercise, have demonstrated therapeutic benefits for older women with cancer and should be considered.

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Revision date: July 4, 2011
Last revised: by Dave R. Roger, M.D.