Assessing the impact of breast cancer


The psychological and physical effects of breast cancer are being examined in a first-time study that tracks women in the first five years following their diagnosis.

Almost 3000 Victorian women are diagnosed each year with breast cancer, but to date no studies have determined the physical and emotional impact of the disease.

Professor Susan Davis, director of the Centre of Clinical Research Excellence in the Study of Women's Health at Monash University, said breast cancer impacted on every area of a woman's life, from finances to employment, to family life and psychological wellbeing.

"Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, we spend huge amounts of money on diagnosis and treatment, but we need to know the ongoing impact of diagnosis," Professor Davis said. "We're trying to determine how we optimise the lives of women diagnosed so they do not become depressed, so their marriage doesn't break down and so the impact on their children is minimised."

To date, more than 700 women have joined the Health and Wellbeing After Breast Cancer Study, making it the largest study of its kind ever undertaken.

Cancer survivor Dr Kim Paleg welcomed the study. Dr Paleg was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago and was convinced she would die.

"I had eight-month old twins and a five-year-old, I was terrified that I would not be there to see them grow up. That lasted for two days, then I thought there may be more I could do," she said. "I called my acupuncturist to see if there was anything she could do. I don't know whether that did anything, but I think my decision to do something helped me feel more empowered."

Dr Paleg said while the first few months were definitely the hardest, there were moments throughout her illness that were particularly difficult.

"Although the treatment was physically hard, reaching the end of treatment was almost harder because suddenly I was on my own. I'd had surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy where I felt like I was actively fighting the disease. Then suddenly nothing - I felt like I'd been dumped," she said.

Dr Paleg said she would have liked access to family support initiatives and advice on telling her children about the illness.

Anyone diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 12 months and interested in taking part in the study should contact 1800 034 348.

October is breast cancer awareness month, culminating in Pink Ribbon Day today. For more information or to arrange interviews contact Ms Diane Squires on 03 9905 9315 or 0417 603 400.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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