Some Treatment Symptoms Have Greater Impact on Young

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Age at breast cancer diagnosis may influence long-term quality of life

August 29, 2014

Written By Robin Warshaw
Reviewed By Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS

Two recent studies found that those diagnosed with breast cancer at younger ages are more likely to experience difficulties with certain symptoms and side effects than those diagnosed when older.

The research appeared in the journal Cancer, as part of a series relevant to the care of adolescents and young adults.


Breast cancer treatment side effects may last long after therapies end. Young women often report more long-term side effects than older women.

A national needs assessment of young women diagnosed with breast cancer, conducted by LBBC, found that half of those surveyed had continuing post-treatment fatigue, trouble sleeping, loss of interest in sex and other long-term issues.

While LBBC uses symptoms to mean only conditions directly related to the disease of cancer, the researchers of the studies reported on here use symptoms to mean long-term side effects of cancer and its treatments.


The researchers wanted to better understand distinct continuing symptoms in young women treated for breast cancer and compare them with the experiences of older peers. To explore quality-of-life impact, the studies aimed to identify any age differences in the type, effect on day-to-day living, change over time, and severity of the side effects.


One study (Champion et al) compared 505 women diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45 or younger with 622 women who were diagnosed from age 55 to 70. All were 3 to 8 years from diagnosis without recurrence. Their data were part of a large clinical trials database.

To help identify problems related to breast cancer, the younger group was also compared to 404 women of the same age who never had breast cancer. All of the women self-reported and medical records were used.

The other study (Sanford et al) drew from research on people with breast, prostate, colorectal or lung cancer. In that study, people rated their quality of life and severity of side effects and medical records were used. The sub-study looked only at those diagnosed with breast or colorectal cancer at age 39 or younger. There were 96 young women in the breast cancer group.


Compared to their older peers and young, undiagnosed women, the Champion study found that young women with breast cancer had more

The researchers concluded that these put young women treated for breast cancer at greater risk for quality-of-life problems over time.

In the Sanford study, compared to women who were 40 or older at diagnosis, young women experienced more

  • moderate to severe drowsiness
  • hair loss
  • trouble with personal relationships due to side effects

The study looked at 17 other side effects but found that age at diagnosis had no impact. Young women were more likely to be referred to specialists, especially for emotional and nutritional services. The researchers found that long-term effects only significantly impacted quality of life in the older women.

Differences in findings of the two studies may relate to the number of women evaluated by each.

What This Means For You

These studies identified certain side effects that are more likely to continue long-term if you were diagnosed with breast cancer before age 45. It may be helpful for you to know that many women like you experience similar difficulties. Yet that doesn’t mean problems can’t be avoided or solved. Whether you finished treatment months or years ago, or are in on-going therapies, you can find help for many of the discomforts of long-term side effects and improve your quality of life.

Talk with your healthcare team about your symptoms as soon as possible. If suggested approaches are not providing relief, ask your providers about other methods or for referrals to specialists. Finding help to treat and relieve problems can improve your physical, sexual, cognitive and emotional functioning, now and for the future.

Champion,VL, Wagner, LI, Monahan, PO, et al. Comparison of Older and Younger Breast Cancer Survivors and Aged-Matched Controls on Specific and Overall Quality of Life DomainsCancer. 2014; doi: 10.0002/cncr.28737.

Sanford,SD, Zhao, F, Salsman, JM, et al. Symptom Burden Among Young Adults With Breast or Colorectal CancerCancer. 2014; doi: 10.0002/cncr.28297.

This article was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number DP11-1111 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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