A new study of women having completed breast cancer treatment found that a significant number of the women experienced at least one treatment-related complication.
Such complications included, but were not limited to, skin reactions from radiation, weight gain, fatigue, surgery-related issues, upper body symptoms and physical limitations, and lymphedema, an incurable condition most often resulting in swelling of the arms and hands.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, was published online April 6 in a special issue of the journal Cancer that focuses on the physical late effects of breast cancer treatment and ways to prevent, monitor and treat these conditions.
The study entailed researchers looking at the post-treatment situations of 287 Australians who received treatment for breast cancer. They found that more than 60 percent of this group had at least one treatment-related complication up to six years after their diagnosis, and 30 percent had at least two complications.
“Our work provides the first accounting of the true magnitude of the post-treatment problems suffered by breast cancer patients, and serves as a call to action for proper monitoring and rehabilitation services to care for them,” study leader Kathryn Schmitz, associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a university news release.
“We can no longer pretend that the side effects of breast cancer treatment end after patients finish active treatment. The scope of these complications is shocking and upsetting, but a ready solution for many of them already exists in rehabilitative exercise,” said Schmitz, who is a member of the university’s Abramson Cancer Center and serves as a senior scientist on a committee overseeing creation of a surveillance model for breast cancer survivors.
Dr, Schmitz and her colleagues shared that many factors can prevent proper monitoring of breast cancer survivors for the types of complications identified in the study. Patients may have fragmented care and receive different types of treatment at different hospitals; both patients and doctors may believe that certain complications are “expected” and “normal” and don’t warrant treatment; and many breast cancer patients aren’t aware of or referred to physical therapy professionals.
(SOURCE: University of Pennsylvania, news release, April 10, 2012)