Quality of Life After Breast Cancer Treatment
Whether you are newly diagnosed, are in active treatment or completed treatment years ago, breast cancer can affect how you feel inside and out.
You have to cope with the emotional strain of the diagnosis and the physical challenges of treatment, as well as the stresses of daily life.
Even though your diagnosis may be similar to another person’s, the way breast cancer impacts your life is unique.
What is quality of life?
“Quality of life” describes your overall well-being, including:
- Mental and physical health
- Ability to perform daily roles
- Sexual function
- Pain, fatigue and other side effects of treatment or symptoms of the breast cancer
Non-health issues, such as financial concerns, are also part of quality of life.
Managing side effects and other issues that have a negative impact on your quality of life is an important part of your follow-up care.
How we’re helping
Last year, the Komen Financial Assistance Program provided assistance to more than 16,000 individuals and their families.
Learn more about the Komen Financial Assistance Program.
Quality of life after treatment
Most people report a good quality of life after they complete breast cancer treatment [6-7]. However, you may have some late effects of treatment.
However, you may have some long-term side effects or new side effects may occur months or even years after treatment ends. These are called late effects of treatment and may include hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms, fatigue, chronic breast or chest wall pain, lymphedema and a loss of sex drive.
It can be hard to plan for or cope with these late effects since they vary from person to person.
Talk with your health care provider about any health issues you have. It may help to keep a record of side effects as they happen to track them and discuss with your provider. Although some conditions (such as early menopause) cannot be reversed, the symptoms can be treated.
Learn about (in alphabetical order):
- Bone health problems
- Changes after mastectomy
- Changes in the look and feel of the breast after lumpectomy
- Changes in the look and feel of the breast after radiation therapy
- Changes in the look and feel of the breast after reconstruction
- Cognitive function (problems with memory and concentration)
- Early menopause
- Emotional distress and depression
- Fatigue or insomnia (trouble sleeping)
- Fear of breast cancer recurrence
- Heart problems
- Joint and muscle pain
- Lung problems
- Menopausal symptoms (such as hot flashes and vaginal symptoms)
- Numbness (neuropathy)
- Relationships with spouses, partners, other family members and friends
- Sexuality and intimacy issues
- Social support
- Spirituality (prayer, mindfulness meditation)
- Weight gain
Practical issues are also part of quality of life. You may be dealing with financial and insurance issues.
Improving quality of life for people who’ve had breast cancer
Researchers are looking at ways people who’ve had breast cancer can improve their quality of life. For example, exercise may improve mood, fatigue and social well-being [8-11].
Social support may also be related to improved quality of life for people who’ve had breast cancer [12-14].
Positive effects on quality of life
Although breast cancer often has a negative impact on quality of life, it may also trigger a positive change in your outlook .
You may have a stronger sense of spirituality or faith, or a more hopeful view that increases pleasure in your life . You may meet and bond with people you might not have met otherwise. And you may make positive changes in your life that you might not have made without a breast cancer diagnosis. Some people call this the “silver lining” of having breast cancer.
If you’ve had breast cancer, you’re in a unique position to help others.
After treatment ends, there are many ways you can be a part of the breast cancer cause through research, community work or advocacy efforts.
Whether you enroll in a research study, serve as an advisor, or volunteer for an advocacy group, you can make a difference.
You could also consider joining Susan G. Komen®‘s ShareForCures. ShareForCures is a breast cancer research registry, connecting scientists with information from people who have or had breast cancer. Everyone’s breast cancer information is unique. When combined with thousands of other ShareForCures members, we can provide scientists with a more diverse set of data to make new discoveries, faster.
ShareForCures is simple to join. Participation is open to any adult living in the U.S. who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Learn more about getting involved.