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01.08.2008 | Review | Ausgabe 1/2008 Open Access

Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research 1/2008

Health-related quality of life in breast cancer patients: A bibliographic review of the literature from 1974 to 2007

Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research > Ausgabe 1/2008
Ali Montazeri
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​1756-9966-27-32) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Competing interests

The author declares that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

The author carried out this review and wrote the manuscript, and prepared all the tables and the additional file.


Health-related quality of life is now considered an important endpoint in cancer clinical trials. It has been shown that assessing quality of life in cancer patients could contribute to improved treatment and could even be as prognostic as medical factors could be prognostic [ 14]. Above all, studies of quality of life can further indicate the directions needed for more efficient treatment of cancer patients. Among the quality of life studies in cancer patients, breast cancer has received most attention for several reasons. First, the number of women with breast cancer is increasing. It has been reported that each year over 1.1 million women worldwide are diagnosed with breast cancer and 410,000 die from the disease [ 5]. Secondly, early detection and treatment of breast cancer have improved and survivors now live longer, so studying quality of life in this context is important. Thirdly, breast cancer affects women's identities and therefore studying quality of life for those who lose their breasts is vital. In addition, it is believed that females play important roles as partners, wives, and mothers within any family. Thus, when a woman develops breast cancer, all members of family might develop some sort of illnesses. In fact, breast cancer is a family disease. Other reasons could be added, but overall it is crucial to recognize that with increasing improvements in medicine and medical practice during recent years studying quality of life for any cancer, for any anatomical site and for either gender is considered highly relevant. A descriptive study of the published papers (230 articles) on non-biomedical outcomes (quality of life, preferences, satisfaction and economics) in breast cancer patients, covering the literature from 1990 to 2000, found that the most frequently reported outcomes were health-related quality of life (54%), followed by economic analyses (38%), and patient satisfaction (14%). Only 9% measured patient preferences [ 6].
Over the past 10 years, much clinical effort has been expended in the treatment of breast cancer in order to improve survival. Now the question is: to what extent have studies of quality of life in breast cancer patients added to our information or contributed to improved outcomes in breast cancer care? This is very difficult to answer, but it is possible to try to investigate the contribution of quality of life studies to breast cancer care as a whole. There are several useful review papers on quality of life in breast cancer patients. However, most published papers have either been overviews or systematic literature searches with very focused objectives. The aim of this review is to collect and examine all literature published since the topic first appeared in English language biomedical journals. It is hoped that this extensive review may contribute to existing knowledge, help both researchers and clinicians to have a better profile on the topic, and consequently aid in improving quality of life in breast cancer patients.


As part of a study on quality of life in breast cancer patients, an extensive literature search was carried out using MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Science Citation Index (ISI), the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), the PsycINFO, the Allied and Complementary Medicine (AMED), and Global Health databases. The intention was to review all full publications that have been appeared in English language biomedical journals between 1974 and 2007. The year 1974 was chosen because the first study on quality of life in breast cancer patients was published then. The search strategy included the combination of key words 'quality of life' and 'breast cancer' or 'breast carcinoma' in titles of publications. It was though that this might help to focus the investigation. It provided the initial database for the review. The initial search was carried out in early 2006 and updated twice in 2006, twice at the end of January and December 2007, and once for a final check in April 2008.



A total of 971 citations were identified and after exclusion of duplicates, the abstracts of 606 citations were reviewed. Of these, meetings abstracts, editorials, brief commentaries, letters, errata and dissertation abstracts and papers that appeared online and were indexed ahead of publication were also excluded. The remaining 477 papers were examined in this bibliographic review. The statistics are shown in Table 1 and a chronological list of all papers is available [Additional file 1]. Here, the major findings are summarized and presented under the following headings.
Table 1
Number of citations by year of publication (1974–2007)
Breast cancer
Quality of life
Papers reviewed**
* Excluding duplicates and papers that appeared online and indexed ahead of publication.
** Excluding all meetings abstracts, editorials, brief commentaries, letters, replies, erratum, and dissertation abstracts. For all citations see Additional file 1.


There were several review papers. These were divided into two categories: overviews [ 726], and systematic reviews [ 2735]. Whilst there were quite significant numbers of commentaries, some brief, a few systematic reviews with focused objectives were also identified. These are summarized in Tables 2 and 3. Both overviews and systematic reviews touched interesting topics pointed to helpful comments and findings among published papers. For instance, a paper by Rozenberg et al. [ 26] highlighted that most women affected by breast cancer will not die from it but from other diseases, owing to recent improvements in treatment. They also pointed out that women with breast cancer and three or more co-morbid conditions have a 20-fold higher rate of mortality from causes other than breast cancer and a 4-fold higher rate of all-cause mortality when compared with patients who have none.
Table 2
A list of some overview papers on quality of life in breast cancer patients (1974–2007)
Author(s) [Ref.]
Main focus
McEvoy and McCorkle [ 7]
QOL in advanced breast cancer
Efforts to manage advanced breast cancer must include both current medical therapies and attention to the critical factors associated with enhancing their QOL.
Kiebert et al. [ 8]
Impact of breast conserving surgery vs. mastectomy on QOL
There were no substantial differences between the two treatment modalities except for body image and sexual functioning in favor of breast conserving surgery.
Aarenson [ 9]
Assessments of QOL and benefits from adjuvant therapies
Adjuvant therapies could improve QOL in breast cancer patients.
Bryson and Plosker [ 10]
Tamoxifen as adjuvant therapy
Tamoxifen has a low cost-utility ratio in postmenopausal women with node-positive, estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.
Stefanek [ 11]
QOL research, provider-patient communication, and psychological distress of spouses and other relatives of breast cancer patients
This review summarizes and critiques publications in three identified areas.
Ganz [ 12]
Review of various approaches to the measurement of QOL, the important QOL issues in the treatment of breast cancer, and what is known about QOL of older women with breast cancer
Ongoing and future research using newer approaches to QOL assessment should provide additional information on this important topic.
Osoba [ 13]
QOL as a treatment endpoint
Advances in understanding HRQOL in metastatic breast cancer will aid the development of rational treatment policies.
Carlson [ 14]
QOL in metastatic breast cancer
Clinician must balance anti-tumor activity, performance status, and the usual toxicity measures as surrogates for QOL associated with each specific therapy.
Leedham and Ganz [ 15]
Psychological concerns and mental health
Psychological concerns and mental health are important issues for breast cancer patients and should be recognized and treated when necessary.
Rustoen and Begnum [ 16]
Nursing practice
Nurses play an important role in meeting the needs of breast cancer patients.
Shapiro et al. [ 17]
Relationship between psychosocial variables and QOL
A broader, more integrative framework that includes psychosocial factors is needed to evaluate breast cancer consequences.
Partridge et al. [ 18]
QOL before, during and after high-dose chemotherapy
Resulting transient impaired overall QOL with subsequent improvement over time.
Kurtz and Dufour [ 19]
QOL in older patients with metastatic disease receiving either standard treatment or new drugs
Aromatase inhibitors (such as taxanes and orally administered chemotherapy) provide similar or a better QOL as compared to first line endocrine therapy with tamoxifen.
Costantino [ 20]
Hormonal treatments in metastatic breast cancer patients
QOL data is useful for both clinicians and patients in evaluating treatment options and developing treatment strategies.
Fallowfield [ 21]
Hormonal therapies
Tolerability profiles of available treatment options are highlighted.
Sammarco [ 22]
QOL of older breast cancer patients
Outpatient and long-term care should become a key setting for implementation of QOL interventions for women with breast cancer.
Knobf [ 23]
Endocrine effects of adjuvant therapy in younger survivors
Causes premature menopause that is associated with poorer QOL, decreased sexual functioning, menopausal symptom distress, psychosocial distress related to infertility, and infertility.
Kayl and Meyers [ 24]
Side effects of chemotherapy
QOL issues may help to guide patient-care decision.
Diel [ 25]
Effectiveness of bisphosphonates on bone pain and quality of life in breast cancer patients with metastatic bone disease
Clinical trial data demonstrate that bisphosphonates offer significant and sustained relief from bone pain and can also improve quality of life in patients with metastatic breast cancer. New treatment schedules using high dose bisphosphonates can offer rapid relief of acute, and severe bone pain.
Rozenberg et al. [ 26]
Co-morbid conditions and breast cancer
Women with breast cancer and three or more co-morbid conditions have a 20-fold higher rate of mortality from causes other than breast cancer and a 4-fold higher rate of all-cause mortality when compared with patients who have none.
Table 3
A list of systematic reviews on different aspects of quality of life in breast cancer patients (1974–2006)
Author(s) [Ref.]
Main focus
Irwig and Bennetts [ 27]
A systematic review of quality of life after breast conservation or mastectomy
Apart body image it is unclear whether breast conservation or mastectomy results in better psychosocial outcomes.
Bottomley and Therasse [ 28]
Systemic therapy (chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, or biological therapy) in advanced breast cancer (1995–2001)
QOL data provide invaluable insights into the treatment and care of patients.
Shimozuma et al. [ 29]
Systematic overview of the literature (1982–1999)
To date there have been almost no appropriate systematic overviews or guidelines issued for QOL assessment studies related to breast cancer.
Goodwin et al. [ 30]
Randomized clinical trials of treatment (review of literature from 1980–2001)
Until results of ongoing trials in breast cancer are available, caution is recommended in initiating new QOL studies unless treatment equivalency is expected or unless unique or specific issues can be addressed.
Rietman et al. [ 31]
Late morbidity of breast cancer (review of literature from 1980 to 2000)
Significant relationship between late morbidity and restrictions of daily activities and poorer QOL was reported.
Payne et al. [ 32]
Racial disparities in the palliative care for African-American (review of literature from 1985 to 2000)
Differences in treatment patterns, pain management, and hospice care exist between African-American and other ethnic groups.
Fossati [ 33]
Randomized clinical trials of cytotoxic or hormonal treatments in advanced breast cancer (review of published literature before Dec 2003
QOL assessments added relatively little value to classical clinical endpoints.
Mols et al. [ 34]
Systematic review among long-term survivors
Focusing on the long-term effects of breast cancer is important when evaluating the full extent of cancer treatment.
Grimison and Stockler [ 35]
Adjuvant systemic therapy for early-stage breast cancer (review of literature from 1996 to Feb. 2007)
For the majority of breast cancer patients most aspects of health-related quality of life recover after adjuvant chemotherapy ends without long-term effects except vasomotor symptoms and sexual dysfunction.
Health-related quality of life in patients undergoing systemic therapy for advanced breast cancer was reviewed by Bottomley and Therasse, covering the literature from 1995 to 2001. They indicated that there were 19 studies. Among these, there were 12 studies on chemotherapy, 6 hormonal trials and 1 on biological therapy (Trastuzumab). They concluded that quality of life data provided invaluable insights into the treatment and care of patients [ 28].
To help the selection of optimal treatment, Goodwin et al. conducted a review of measurements of health-related quality of life in randomized clinical trials in breast cancer patients, covering the literature from 1980 to 2000. They identified a total of 256 randomized trials in breast cancer that included health-related quality of life or psychosocial outcomes. Of these, 66 trials involved randomized of different treatment options, 46 evaluated biomedical interventions and 20 evaluated psychosocial interventions. They concluded that until the results of ongoing trials are available, caution is recommended in initiating new quality of life studies unless treatment equivalence is expected or unless unique or specific issues can be addressed [ 30]. Similarly, Fossati's critical review of published literature on randomized clinical trials of cytotoxic or hormonal treatments of advanced breast cancer indicated that quality of life assessments added relatively little value to classical clinical endpoints [ 33].
Mols et al. reviewed the literature on quality of life among long-term survivors of breast cancer and found that although these patients experienced some specific problems such as a thick and painful arm and problems with sexual functioning, most reported good overall quality of life. The review also indicated that the current medical condition, amount of social support and current income level were strong positive predictors of quality of life, and the use of adjuvant chemotherapy emerged as a negative predictor. The authors concluded that focusing on the long-term effects of breast cancer is important when evaluating the full extent of treatment [ 34].
Grimison and Stockler reviewed quality of life in early-stage breast cancer patients receiving adjuvant systemic therapy, review of clinical randomized trials covering the literature from 1996 to 2007, and concluded that the long-term effects of chemotherapy-induced menopause and hormonal therapy on quality of life were poorly recognized. They found that vasomotor symptoms and altered sexual function were common, distressing and inadequately treated [ 35].

Two historical papers

The first paper on quality of life in breast cancer patients was published in 1974. In this historical paper advanced breast cancer patients receiving adrenalectomy with chemotherapy were assessed for objective and subjective response rates, survival and quality of life. The results showed that in 64% of the patients the subjective palliation involved a return to essentially normal living during the period of improvement [ 36]. The second historical paper on the topic was appeared two years later, in 1976; Priestman and Baum used a linear analogue self-assessment (LASA) to measure the subjective effects of treatment in women with advanced breast cancer [ 37]. The results showed that this technique might be used to monitor the subjective benefit of treatment and to compare the subjective toxicities of different therapeutic regimens. The results also suggested that the subjective toxicity of cytotoxic therapy was not related to the patient's age and diminished with successive courses of drugs. However, not until the late 1980s and early 1990s was the literature gradually supplemented with papers using relatively standard and established instruments to measure quality of life in breast cancer patients.

Instruments used

Broadly, quality of life measures can be classified as: general, disease specific, and site-specific. Although the early studies did not use standard measures, several valid instruments for measuring quality of life in breast cancer patients have been developed in recent years. The most commonly-used instruments were: the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Quality of Life Questionnaire and its Breast Cancer supplement (EORTC QLQ-C30 and QLQ-BR23); the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy General Questionnaire and its Breast Cancer Supplement (FACIT-G and FACIT-B formerly FACT questionnaires); the Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Questionnaire (BCQ); the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS); and the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form Survey (SF-36). Table 4 lists a number of most important instruments used in studies of quality of life in breast cancer patients. Almost all these instruments proved to be valid and were found to be very popular among researchers and clinicians.
Table 4
A list of instruments used to measure quality of life in breast cancer patients (1974–2007)
Types of measures
Measures full name
General measures
Short Form Health Survey
Spitzer Quality of Life Index
Sickness Impact Profile
Ferrans and Powers Quality of Life Index
Cancer specific measures
European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Core quality of Life questionnaire
Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy General Questionnaire
FACIT-G (formerly FACT)
Functional Living Index-Cancer
Ferrans and Powers Quality of Life Index-Cancer
Breast cancer specific measures
European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Breast Cancer Quality of Life Questionnaire
Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy-Breast
Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Questionnaire
The Satisfaction with Life Domains Scale for Breast Cancer
Psychological measures
General Health Questionnaire-28
Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale
Beck Depression Inventory
Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale
State-Trait Anxiety Inventory
Profile Mood State
Mental Adjustment to Cancer Scale
Psychosocial Adjustment to Illness Scale
Symptom measures
Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy-Fatigue
Piper Fatigue Scale
Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory
Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy-B plus Arm Morbidity Subscale
Hot Flash Related Interference Scale
Shoulder Disability Questionnaire
Brief Pain Inventory
McGill Pain Questionnaire
Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale
Rotterdam Symptom Checklist
Other measures
Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy-Spiritual
Body Image Scale
Body Image After Breast Cancer Questionnaire
Watts Sexual Functioning Questionnaire
Social Support Questionnaire
Life Satisfaction Questionnaire
Satisfaction With Life Scale

Validation studies

Development of instruments for measuring quality of life in breast cancer patients, or cultural adaptation and validation studies of the existing instruments, was the major theme in a number of papers. These are presented in Table 5[ 3859]. A paper by Levine et al. in 1988 was the first validation study in this field. It reported a quality of life measure in breast cancer patients called the Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Questionnaire (BCQ). This is a 30-item questionnaire that focuses on loss of attractiveness, fatigue, physical symptoms, inconvenience, emotional distress and feelings of hope and support from others [ 35]. A few studies reported translation and validation findings for the instruments used to assess quality of life among breast cancer patients in different cultures (for example see [ 48, 54, 56]).
Table 5
A summary of validation studies of quality of life instruments in breast cancer patients (1974–2007)
Author(s) [Ref.]
Main focus
Levine et al. [ 38]
The Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Questionnaire (BCQ)
Development an outcome measure in clinical trials of adjuvant chemotherapy
Ciampi et al. [ 39]
A 27 item Linear Analog Self Assessment
Factor analysis indicating disease and treatment-related, physical, emotional and social health summary scores
Tamburini et al. [ 40]
Two simple index
To assess the impact of therapy on QOL in patients receiving chemotherapy for operable breast cancer
Osoba et al. [ 41]
The European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Core Quality of Life Questionnaire (EORTC QLQ-C30)
Evaluation of psychometric properties and responsiveness
Carlsson and Hamrin [ 42]
The Life Satisfaction Questionnaire (LSQ-32)
Development a tool to measure life satisfaction in breast cancer patients
Sprangers et al. [ 43]
The European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Breast Cancer Specific Quality of Life Questionnaire (EORTC QLQ-BR23)
Development of a breast cancer specific QOL measure
Brady et al. [ 44]
The Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy Breast Cancer Specific Questionnaire (FACT-B)
Development of a breast cancer specific QOL measure
de Haes and Olschewski [ 45]
The Rotterdam Symptom Checklist (RSC)
Cross cultural validation
McLachlan et al. [ 46]
Validation as a measure of psychological function
Fallowfiled et al [ 47]
An endocrine symptom subscale for the FACT-B (FACT-B plus ES)
Validation in women undergoing hormonal therapy for breast cancer
Montazeri et al. [ 48]
Validation of the Iranian version
Mihailova et al. [ 49]
The EORTC QLQ-C30 and the QLQ-BR23
Validation of the Bulgarian version
Coster et al. [ 50]
The Impact of Arm Morbidity (FACT-B+4)
Development a QOL scale to assess the impact of arm morbidity post-operatively
Carpenter [ 51]
The Hot Flash Related Daily Interference Scale
Development of a tool for measuring the impact of hot flashes on QOL
Pandey et al. [ 52]
The FACT Breast Cancer Specific Questionnaire (FACT-B)
Validation of the Malayalam version
Chie et al. [ 53]
The EORTC QLQ-C30 and the EORTC QLQ-BR23
Validation of the Taiwan Chinese version
Lee et al. [ 54]
The Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-General (FACT-G)
Validation of the Korean version
Yun et al. [ 55]
Cross-cultural application in Korea
Parmar et al. [ 56]
Validation of the Indian version
Avis and Foley [ 57]
The Quality of life in Adult Cancer Survivors (QLACS)
Evaluation in long term breast cancer survivors
Wan et al. [ 58]
Validation of the simplified Chinese version
Wan et al. [ 59]
Psychometric properties of the simplified Chinese version

Measurement issues

Papers that dealt with issues of quality of life measurement in breast cancer patients encompassed a variety of topics, mainly focusing on methodological and practical concerns in such assessment, especially in clinical settings. Most authors have tried first to convince clinicians to assess quality of life, and secondly to show how quality of life data could contribute to care and management of breast cancer patients. Table 6 presents a summary of the results [ 6084].
Table 6
A list of quality of life studies that covered measurement issues in breast cancer patients (1974–2007)
Author(s) [Ref.]
Main focus
Baum et al. [ 60]
The issue of measuring QOL in advanced breast cancer
Efforts are being made to find out ways to measure QOL in advanced breast cancer patients.
Sutherland et al. [ 61]
Ratings of the importance of QOL variables
Breast cancer patients give different weights to different QOL variables.
Gelber et al. [ 62]
Explaining about the QOL adjusted Time Without Symptom and Toxicity
Integration of two methods (QOL and symptom free duration) could provide a new tool.
Ganz et al. [ 63]
The influence of multiple variables on the relationship of age to QOL
The casement plot methodology should be employed for simultaneous evaluation of multiple variables.
Gelber et al. [ 64]
Description of survival estimates with applications to QOL evaluation (Quality adjusted Time Without Symptoms of disease and Toxicity of treatment)
Estimation showed that patients continued to benefit greatly from long-term-duration chemotherapy between 5 and 10 years following treatment.
Hyden et al. [ 65]
Pitfalls in collecting QOL data
Several recommendations were made: (a) build support for QOL assessment among the group's leadership, (b) involve physicians and oncology nurses in the study design, (c) identify a QOL liaison at each participating institution, and (d) aggressively monitor the quality and timeliness of data submission.
Fallowfield [ 66]
Measurement issues
Some recommendations for selecting well validated measures.
Gerard et al. [ 67]
Framing and labeling effects in measuring quality adjusted life years
A significant difference was found in the particular values of descriptions that were written in the third person that differed in terms of whether the word "cancer" was used.
Hurny et al. [ 68]
Timing of baseline QOL assessment
Timing is an important consideration in QOL assessment.
Fallowfield [ 69]
Discussion on some instruments used to measure QOL
Monitoring QOL in breast cancer should be a mandatory part of follow-up in clinical trials.
Hietanen [ 70]
Measurement and practical aspects of QOL assessment
Main factors affecting QOL in the treatment of breast cancer.
Bernhard et al. [ 71]
The International Breast Cancer Study Group (IBCSG) approach
Confirmation of the feasibility, validity and clinical relevance of quality of life assessment.
Bernhard et al. [ 72]
Factors affecting baseline QOL assessment
Cultural and biomedical factors are influencing baseline QOL data and should be considered when evaluating the impact of treatment.
Bernhard et al. [ 73]
Practical issues and factors associated with missing data
The factors most highly associated with missing data were institution and chemotherapy compliance.
Ganz et al. [ 74]
Compliance with QOL data collection
Educational level of a trial participants might contribute to it compliance.
Coates and Gebski [ 75]
Approaches to missing data
Missing data cannot be assumed to be similar to those available. Optimal assessment requires careful prospective attention to complete data collection.
Jansen et al. [ 76]
Response shift
Significant recalibration effects were observed.
Curran et al. [ 77]
Summary measures and statistics
Different techniques in analysis might result in different conclusions.
Perez et al. [ 78]
The application of a time trade-off utility measure
The utility measure and a QOL measure showed fair to moderate concordance.
Nagel et al. [ 79]
A cluster analytic approach to analyze quality of life data
QOL scores could identify clinically meaningful subgroups of patients.
Mosconi et al. [ 80]
A general introduction to the debate on the methodological issues involved in QOL evaluation
Open questions regarding the use of QOL measures in surgical, adjuvant therapy and metastatic studies.
Efficace et al. [ 81]
Evaluating reliability, validity and cultural relevance of QOL measures in clinical trials
Suggestions for selecting future measures for use in breast cancer population of patients.
Wilson et al. [ 82]
Comparing two QOL measures (the Rand 36-item and the Functional Living Index-Cancer)
Neither questionnaire can be replaced by each other in studies of QOL in breast cancer patients.
Carver et al. [ 83]
Assessment of demographic, medical and psychological variables on outcome
Different aspects of QOL at long-term follow-up had different antecedents.
Perry et al. [ 84]
Benefits, acceptability and utilization of QOL assessment in women with breast cancer
Summarized the benefits, challenges, and barriers of QOL measurement for female breast cancer patients.

Surgical treatment

Breast cancer surgery including conservative surgery followed by irradiation, and modified radical mastectomy or radical mastectomy followed by immediate reconstruction is associated with different side-effects including pain, and fatigue and thus affecting quality of life in breast cancer patients. A list of studies on surgery and quality of life in breast cancer patients is given in Table 7[ 85113]
Table 7
A list of studies of surgical treatment and quality o life in breast cancer patients (1974–2007)
Author (s) [Ref.]
Treatment (assessment time)
de Haes et al. [ 85]
MAS vs. tumorectomy (11 months after surgery)
No differences expect worse body image in MAS patients.
de Haes et al. [ 86]
MAS vs. tumorectomy (11 and 18 months after surgery)
Overall QOL improved over time in both groups; poor body image in MAS.
Ganz et al. [ 87]
MAS vs. BCS after one year
No significant differences in QOL and both groups improved; BCS patients did not experience significantly better QOL but had fewer problems with clothing and body image.
Shimozuma et al. [ 88]
Hospitalization had a strong negative relation to overall QOL; type of surgery had no significant association with QOL.
Neises et al. [ 89]
Older women suffer as much as younger patients after MAS.
Fallowfield [ 90]
Surgery and tamoxifen vs. tamoxifen alone
At 2 years similar psychological health; no evidence of impaired QOL for elderly women after surgery
Shimozuma et al. [ 91]
MRM or BCS (before surgery and 3 times up 2 years after)
No significant differences in overall QOL; patients with BCS need more psychological support.
Hart et al. [ 92]
MAS + prostheses or MAS + reconstruction or MAS alone
No one technique is necessary for all women to optimize QOL; women should choose and make their own decisions.
Dorval et al. [ 93]
Partial or total MAS (3 and 18 months after)
Both appeared to be equivalent in long-term QOL. Younger women might benefit more from partial MAS.
Curran et al. [ 94]
Significant benefit in body image and satisfaction in BCS group; no difference in fear of recurrence.
Wapnir et al. [ 95]
Lumpectomy with axillary dissection (LAD) or mastectomy
No major differences except for dressing, comfort with nudity and sexual drive in favor of ALD.
Shimozuma et al. [ 96]
MRM or BCS (1 year after)
At one year good QOL, with no relationship to the type of surgery.
Pusic et al. [ 97]
Lumpectomy + irradiation or MAS + reconstruction or MAS alone
Postoperative QOL varied with age; for age less than 55 QOL was lowest for MAS, over 55 was lowest for lumpectomy.
Amichetti et al. [ 98]
BCS + irradiation in non-infiltrating breast cancer
Good QOL and body image and lack of negative impact on sexuality.
King et al. [ 99]
MAS or BCS (3 months and 1 year after)
Most symptoms declined over time but arm and menopausal symptoms persisted; worse QOL in younger patients.
Kenny et al. [ 100]
MAS or BCS + irradiation (1 year after)
Better body image and physical function in BCS; more impact on younger women regardless of treatment type.
Nissen et al. [ 101]
MAS or MAS + reconstruction or BCS (6 times assessment up to 2 years after)
QOL other than body image were not better in BCS or MAS + reconstruction than in who had MAS alone; MAS + reconstruction was associated with greater mood disturbance and poorer QOL.
Janni et al. [ 102]
MAS or BCS (median 46 months follow-up)
Surgical modalities had no long-term impact on overall QOL, but certain body image related problems in MAS was observed.
Girotto et al. [ 103]
MAS + reconstruction in older women
Improved QOL in older patients especially improved mental health.
Cocquyt et al. [ 104]
Skin-sparing MAS or BCS
Both yielded comparable QOL, but cosmetic outcome was better after skin-sparing MAS.
Engel et al [ 105]
MAS or BCS (5 years follow-up)
MAS patients had lower body image, role and sexual functioning; BCS should be encouraged in all ages.
Ganz et al. [ 106]
Lumpectomy + chemotherapy or MAS + chemotherapy or Lumpectomy alone or MAS alone in non-metastatic breast cancer patients
At the end of primary treatment all treatment groups reported good emotional functioning but decreased physical health especially among women who had MAS or received chemotherapy.
Dubernard et al. [ 107]
Axillary procedure affected only QOL related to arm morbidity.
Elder et al. [ 108]
MAS + immediate breast reconstruction (before and 12 months after)
After 12 months good QOL comparable with aged-matched women from the general population.
Barranger et al. [ 109]
SLNB vs. ALND in breast-sparing treatment
SLNB was associated with significantly lower mid term morbidity.
Fleissig [ 110]
Regarding arm functioning and QOL the use of SNB was recommended in patients with node negative breast cancer.
Pandey et al. [ 111]
No significant change in overall QOL after surgery; poorer QOL in MAS patients.
Rietman et al. [ 112]
SLNB or ALND (before and after 2 years)
Less treatment related upper limb morbidity, perceived disability in activities of daily life and worsening of QOL after SNLB compared with ALND.
Parker et al. [ 113]
MAS or MAS+ reconstruction or BCS (short- and long-term effects on aspects of psychosocial adjustment and QOL
Overall, the general patterns of psychosocial adjustment and QOL were similar among the three surgery groups.
MRM: modified radical mastectomy, MAS: mastectomy, BCS: breast conservation surgery, SNLB: sentinel lymph node biopsy, ALND: axillary lymph node dissection
The most important topic in studies of breast cancer surgery and quality of life relates to the type of surgery. Recent findings suggest that partial and total mastectomy appear to be equivalent treatments in terms of patients' long-term quality of life. However, both short-term and long-term distress levels after partial and total mastectomy may depend on patient's age at diagnosis [ 93]. A study of early breast cancer patients one year after mastectomy or conservative surgery and radiation therapy found that the differences between treatment groups were mainly accounted for by adjuvant therapies. Those treated by breast conservation reported better body image but worse physical functions. The negative impact of breast cancer and its treatment was greater for younger women across a number of dimensions of quality of life measures regardless of treatment type [ 100].
In addition, one study found that aspects of quality of life other than body image were no better in women who underwent breast-conserving surgery or mastectomy with reconstruction than in women who had mastectomy alone. Furthermore, mastectomy with reconstruction was associated with greater mood disturbance and poorer health [ 101]. However, the results of a 5-year prospective study on quality of life following breast-conserving surgery or mastectomy indicated that mastectomy patients had a significantly worse body image; role and sexual functioning, and their lives were more disrupted [ 105]. A recent Japanese study on the early effects of surgery in patients with breast cancer performing multivariate analysis reported that there were no significant differences in quality of life before and after surgery, but quality of life was significantly better among women undergoing breast conservation than those undergoing mastectomy [ 111]. A study comparing the short- and long-term effects of mastectomy with reconstruction, mastectomy without reconstruction, and breast conservation therapy on aspects of psychosocial adjustment and quality of life in a sample of 258 women with breast cancer concluded that overall, the general patterns of psychosocial adjustment and quality of life were similar among the three surgery groups. In addition the study results showed that during the long-term follow-up period (6 months to 2 years after surgery), women in all three groups experienced marked improvements in psychosocial adjustment (depressive symptoms, satisfaction with chest appearance, sexual functioning) and quality of life in physical and mental health domains [ 113].

Systemic therapies

In order to reduce the risk of recurrence and death, breast cancer patients usually receive systemic therapies (chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and biological treatments) after surgery. Several studies evaluated quality of life in breast cancer patients receiving systemic therapies. A list of studies reporting on the topic is given in Table 8[ 36, 37, 114169].
Table 8
A list of studies on systemic therapies and quality of life in breast cancer patients (1974–2007)
Author(s) [Ref.]
Moore et al. [ 36]
Adrenalectomy + chemotherapy in advanced breast cancer
In most patients the subjective palliation involved a return to normal living.
Priestman and Baum [ 37]
Chemotherapy in advanced breast cancer
Toxicity is not related to the patients' age and diminished with successive courses of drugs.
Palmer et al. [ 114]
A single agent vs. five drug combination in node positive primary breast cancer
Better QOL in single agent group.
Coates et al. [ 115]
Intermittent vs. continuous chemotherapy in metastatic breast cancer
Continuous chemotherapy was better; changes in the QOL were independent prognostic factor of survival.
Kiebert et al. [ 116]
Peri-operative chemotherapy vs. no chemotherapy in early stage breast cancer
No differences 1 year after; patients considered chemotherapy most burdensome aspect of treatment.
Gelber et al. [ 117]
Single cycle of combination chemotherapy vs. longer duration chemotherapy for pre-menopausal or chemo-endocrine therapy for postmenopausal women
Better QOL in longer duration chemotherapy or chemo-endocrine therapy.
Berglund et al. [ 118]
Late effects of adjuvant chemotherapy vs. postoperative radiotherapy in pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer
Chemotherapy patients had higher overall QOL.
Richards et al. [ 119]
A (weekly for 12 courses vs. every three weeks for 4 courses) in advanced breast cancer
Similar survival but higher psychological distress in the three weeks group.
Hurny et al. [ 120]
CMF (6 cycles vs. 3 cycles) in operable breast cancer
QOL improved with increasing time from the study entry.
Campora et al. [ 121]
Adjuvant chemotherapy vs. palliative chemotherapy in metastatic breast cancer
No significant difference between groups.
Fraser et al. [ 122]
CMF vs. E in advanced breast cancer
Similar survival and no significant difference in overall global QOL.
Twelves et al. [ 123]
Iododoxorubicin in advanced breast cancer
Little evidence of benefit in terms of physical symptom relief, level of activity, psychological symptoms or global QOL.
Bertsch and Donaldson. [ 124]
Vinorelbine vs. melphalan
Vinorelbine was better in some aspects of QOL.
Swain et al. [ 125]
AC + G-CSF in node positive breast cancer
Tolerable physical symptoms and emotional distress.
McQuellon et al. [ 126]
High-dose chemotherapy + ABMT
No significant difference between pre- and post-treatment QOL.
Larsen et al. [ 127]
High-dose chemotherapy + ASCT
Resulting in poor physical and emotional health.
Hurny et al. [ 128]
6 cycles of CMF vs. 3 cycles CMF in node-positive operable breast cancer
Worse QOL during treatment but not after treatment completion.
Griffiths and Beaver [ 129]
High-dose chemotherapy in advanced breast cancer
No significant deterioration in QOL.
Lindley et al. [ 130]
Systemic adjuvant therapy
2–5 years after treatment good QOL. Small to modest gain was acceptable to women.
Ganz et al. [ 131]
TAM or chemotherapy alone or chemotherapy + TAM, or no adjuvant therapy
No significant differences in global QOL among treatment groups; those who received chemotherapy had more sexual problems and those who received TAM had more vasomotor symptoms.
Bernhard et al. [ 132]
Formestane vs. megestrol acetate in postmenopausal advanced breast cancer while on TAM
No significant difference in QOL; baseline QOL was strong predictive for QOL under treatment but not for time to treatment failure.
Fairclough et al. [ 133]
CAF vs. dose intensive a 16-week multi-drug regimen
Negative impact of the dose intensive 16-week regimen was observed, although Q-TwiST analysis showed a small gain for this regimen.
Osoba and Burchmore [ 134]
Trastuzumab (Hercptin) in metastatic breast cancer who may or may not have had prior chemotherapy
Trastuzumab was associated with an amelioration of the deleterious effects of chemotherapy alone; the drug was not associated with worsening of QOL.
McLachlan et al. [ 135]
Chemotherapy in metastatic breast cancer
QOL maintained or improved; patients did not want to trade quantity for QOL.
Macquart-Moulin et al. [ 136]
High-dose chemotherapy + G-CSF + ASCT in inflammatory breast cancer
QOL deterioration disappeared after treatment and returned to baseline after one year.
Riccardi et al. [ 137]
Doubling E within FEC vs. FEC in metastatic breast cancer
No significant difference in response or improvement of baseline QOL.
Kramer et al. [ 138, 139]
Paclitaxel vs. A in advanced breast cancer
QOL appeared to be prognostic for survival and response to treatment.
Joly et al. [ 140]
CMF + irradiation vs. irradiation in pre-menopausal breast cancer
Similar QOL was observed.
Hakamies-Blomqvist et al. [ 141]
T vs. sequential MF in metastatic breast cancer
Difference in QOL was minor favoring MF.
Broeckel et al. [ 142]
Adjuvant chemotherapy treated breast cancer (after 3 to 36 months)
Younger age, unmarried status, time since diagnosis and chemotherapy completion related to greeter depressive symptoms.
Carlson et al. [ 143]
High-dose chemotherapy + ASCT in metastatic breast cancer
Anxiety and depression continued to increase, loss of sexual interest, worrying and joint pain were reported.
Osoba et al. [ 144]
Chemotherapy + Trastuzumab (Hercptin) vs. Chemotherapy alone in metastatic breast cancer
More improved global QOL with chemotherapy + Herceptin.
Modi et al. [ 145]
Paclitaxel in metastatic breast cancer
QOL benefit in tumor response patients.
Heidemann et al [ 146].
Mitoxantrone vs. FEC in metastatic breast cancer
No significant difference in survival or response but a QOL scores favored mitoxantrone.
Genre et al. [ 147]
High-dose-intensity AC (21 vs. 14 days)
Shortening cycles had a high negative impact on QOL.
de Haes et al. [ 148]
Goserelin vs. CMF in peri-and pre-menopausal node-positive early breast cancer
Better QOL in favor of goserelin.
Brandberg et al. [ 149]
Tailored FEC vs. induction FEC followed with high-dose CTCb + peripheral SCT
No significant overall differences were found between groups.
Land et al. [ 150]
CMF vs. AC in axillary node negative and estrogen receptor negative breast cancer
Overall QOL was equivalent between two groups.
Fallowfield et al. [ 151]
ANA vs. TAM alone or in combination in postmenopausal early breast cancer
Similar overall QOL impact but some small differences in side effects profiles.
Bottomely et al. [ 152]
AT vs. AC in metastatic breast cancer
No significant differences in QOL between two groups.
Bernhard et al. [ 153]
TAM for 5 years or three prior cycles of CMF followed by 57 months TAM in estrogen receptor-negative and estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer
At completion there were no differences by treatment groups.
Tong et al. [ 154]
Capecitabine, idarubicin and cyclophosphamide (all-oral regimen, XIC) in metastatic breast cancer
No significant decease in global QOL scores.
Galalae et al. [ 155]
Radiotherapy and adjuvant chemotherapy vs. radiotherapy and hormonal therapy vs. radiotherapy alone after conserving surgery
Adjuvant chemotherapy lowered QOL vs. hormones or radiotherapy alone.
Elkin et al. [ 156]
Ovarian suppression vs. chemotherapy in pre-menopausal hormone-responsive breast cancer
Assuming equal efficacy ovarian suppression was superior. Efficacy would have impact on treatment choice.
Conner-Spady et al. [ 157]
High-dose chemotherapy + ABST in breast cancer with poor prognosis
Impaired QOL in short term but improved after 2 years.
Bottomley et al. [ 158]
Dose-intensives chemotherapy (CE + filgrastim) vs. CEF in locally advanced breast cancer
Groups did not differ in progression free survival; lower QOL in intensified group at short term but no difference at long term.
Ahles et al. [ 159]
Standard-dose systemic chemotherapy vs. local therapy only in long-term breast cancer survivors
Lower overall QOL in chemotherapy group.
Peppercorn et al. [ 160]
High-dose chemotherapy + ABMT vs. intermediate-dose chemotherapy in patients with stage II and III breast cancer
Patients who received more intensive therapy experienced transient declines in QOL; by 12 months after, QOL was comparable between the 2 arms, regardless of therapy intensity, and many QOL areas were improved from baseline.
Semiglazov et al. [ 161]
CMF + mistletoe lectin (PS76A2) vs. CMF + placebo
PS76A2 improved QOL during and after chemotherapy.
Martin et al. [ 162]
FAC vs. TAC or TAC + G-CSF in node negative breast cancer
Lower QOL in patients treated with TAC. Addition of G-CSF improves QOL.
Hurria et al. [ 163]
Anthracyclin-based chemotherapy or CMF in older women with breast cancer
QOL maintained in both group.
Fallowfield et al. [ 164]
EXE vs. TAM after 2–3 years of TAM in postmenopausal primary breast cancer
Temporary decrease in overall QOL for EXE but no other differences.
Groenvold et al. [ 165]
CMF vs. ovarian ablation
CMF had more negative impact on QOL.
Cella et al. [ 166]
ANA vs. TAM alone or in combination in postmenopausal breast cancer
ANA and TAM had similar impact on QOL.
Liu et al. [ 167]
DPPE + A vs. A in patients with advanced or metastatic breast cancer
Patients on A alone had fewer disease and treatment adverse events and better QOL.
Karamouzis et al. [ 168]
Chemotherapy vs. supportive care in metastatic patients
QOL was better in patients receiving chemotherapy than those under supportive care.
Hopwood et al. [ 169]
Adjuvant radiotherapy
QOL and mental health were favorable for most patients about to start radiotherapy but younger age and receiving chemotherapy were significant risk factors for poorer QOL.
C: Cyclophosphamide, M: Methotrexate, F: 5-fluorouracil, A: Doxorubcin, E: Epirubcin, T: Docetaxel, TAM: Tamoxifen, ANA: Anastrozole, EXE: Exemestane, QOL: Quality of life, DPPE: Tesmilifene, Granulocyte colony stimulating factor: G-CSF, CTCb: Cyclophosphamide, thiotepa, and carboplatin
Chemotherapy has considerable effect on quality of life of breast cancer patients. In a study of postoperative adjuvant chemotherapy in primary node positive breast cancer patients (one or more axillary node), women receiving a single agent or a multi-drug regimen indicated that the treatment was 'unbearable' [ 114] or in a study of patients with early breast cancer receiving preoperative chemotherapy almost all patients considered chemotherapy the most 'burdensome' aspect of the treatment [ 116].
The side-effects of chemotherapy on quality of life in breast cancer patients were the topic of many investigations. In these studies, investigators looked at the issue from different perspectives. For instance, using a decision-analytic approach to evaluate tradeoffs between efficacy and quality of life in the choice of three adjuvant treatments (chemotherapy, surgical ovarian suppression, and medical ovarian suppression) in pre-menopausal women with newly-diagnosed, hormone-responsive early breast cancer, Elkin et al. concluded that when different treatments have similar efficacy, there may be a subgroup of women for whom quality of life considerations dominate the choice. However, they stated that small differences in the relative efficacy of these therapies have a substantial impact on treatment choice [ 156].
To improve clinical outcomes an international randomized controlled trial compared dose-intensive chemotherapy with standard systemic chemotherapy in patients with locally advanced breast cancer and showed that a dose-intensive regimen only has a temporary effect on health-related quality of life, thus enabling more research on intensive treatment for patients with locally advanced breast cancer, as it might also offer a survival benefit [ 158].
However, recent studies focusing on adjuvant hormonal therapies (tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors such as anastrozole, letrozole, exemestane) and quality of life in postmenopausal early-stage breast cancer patients reported more encouraging results. Most studies found that overall quality of life was improved in patients receiving either anstrozole or tamoxifen but patients reported different side effects [ 151, 166]. A trial comparing tamoxifen with exemestane showed that quality of life did not change significantly in either groups, but there were improvements in endocrine-related symptoms [ 164].
In summary, as noted by Grimison and Stockler, for the majority of breast cancer patients most aspects of health-related quality of life recover after adjuvant chemotherapy ends without long-term effects except vasomotor symptoms and sexual dysfunction. However, tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors cause long-term effects due to vasomotor, gynecological and sexual problems [ 35].

Quality of life as predictor of survival

Until recently, only a few studies had reported a relationship between quality of life and survival in breast cancer patients [ 115]. A study using the Daily Diary Card to measure quality of life in advanced breast cancer showed that the instrument offered accurate prognostic data regarding subsequent response to treatment and survival duration [ 170]. Similarly, Seidman et al. evaluated quality of life in two phase II clinical trials of metastatic breast cancer and found that baseline scores of two validated quality of life instruments independently predicted the overall likelihood of tumour responses [ 171].
Studies have shown that baseline quality of life predicts survival in advanced breast cancer but not in early stage of disease [ 172]. Two recently published papers also confirmed that baseline quality of life is not a prognostic factor in non-metastatic breast cancer patients. One of these two studies, using Cox survival analysis, indicated that neither health-related quality of life nor psychological status at diagnosis or 1 year later was associated with medical outcome in women with early-stage breast cancer [ 173]. The other study with a sample of 448 locally advanced breast cancer patients, reported that baseline health-related quality of life parameters had no prognostic value in a non-metastatic breast cancer population [ 174]. However, other studies have demonstrated that some aspects of quality of life data including physical health [ 175], pain [ 139, 176], and loss of appetite [ 177] were significant prognostic factors for survival in women with advanced breast cancer. In addition, one study demonstrated that baseline physical aspects of quality of life and its changes were related to survival, but psychological and social aspects were not [ 178].

Psychological distress

Women with breast cancer might develop psychological distress including anxiety and depression during diagnosis and treatment and after treatment. The psychological impact of breast cancer has received considerable attention. Since this is a separate topic, the focus here is on psychological distress as it relates to quality of life studies in breast cancer patients. Table 9 summarizes the papers on the topic [ 179210].
Table 9
A list of studies on psychological distress and quality of life in breast cancer patients (1974–2007)
Author (s) [Ref.]
Main focus
Ferrero et al. [ 179]
Mental adjustment to cancer in newly-diagnosed non-mtastatic breast cancer(an xploratory study)
Strong association between mental adjustment to cancer and reported vague physical symptoms; fighting spirit and denial was associated with better QOL and helpless/hopeless and anxious preoccupation and fatalism were negatively correlated with well-being.
Ganz et al. [ 180]
Psychosocial concerns 2 and 3 years after primary treatment
Problems associated with physical and recreational activities, body image, and sexual functions were observed, although many positive aspects from cancer experience were reported.
Maunsell et al. [ 181]
Brief psychological intervention vs. Brief psychological intervention + psychological distress screening
Distress screening did not improve QOL. Minimal psychological intervention at initial treatment alone was recommended.
Andrykowski et al. [ 182]
Psychological adjustment in women with breast cancer or benign breast problems
Breast cancer patients reported poorer physical health but greater positive psychosocial adaptation and improved life outlook, no difference in psychological distress between two groups.
Marchioro et al. [ 183]
Evaluation of the impact of a psychological intervention vs. standard care in non-metastatic breast cancer patients
Cognitive psychotherapy and family counseling improved both depression and QOL indexes.
Weitzner et al. [ 184]
QOL and mood in long-term breast cancer survivors
Psychological measures were found to be more robust predictors of QOL than the demographic variables; long-term survivors continue to experience significant depression and lower QOL.
Kissane et al. [ 185]
Psychological morbidity in early-stage breast cancer
45% (135/303) had psychiatric disorder, 42% had depression, anxiety or both; QOL was substantially affected.
Bloom et al. [ 186]
Intrusiveness of illness in young women with newly-diagnosed breast cancer
Intrusiveness of illness mediated the effect of disease and treatment factors on QOL; neither time post-diagnosis nor type of treatment affected the psychological component of QOL.
Longman et al. [ 187]
Psychological adjustment over time
Over time depression burden and anxiety burden persist and each was negatively associated with overall and present QOL.
Cotton et al. [ 188]
Relationship among spiritual well-being, QOL, and psychological adjustment
Spiritual well-being was correlated with both QOL and psychological adjustment, but relationship was found to be more complex and indirect than previously considered.
Ashing-Giwa [ 189]
Psychological outcome in long-term survivors of breast cancer (focus on African-American)
Patients relied on spiritual faith and family support to cope; socio-cultural contexts of the women's lives need to be considered when studying QOL.
Lewis et al. [ 190]
Cancer-related intrusive thoughts and social support
In women with social support cancer-related intrusive thoughts had no significant negative impact on QOL, but in women with low social support there was negative effect on QOL.
Amir and Ramati [ 191]
Post-traumatic distress disorder (PTSD), QOL, and emotional distress in long term survivors of breast cancer and a control group
Higher PSTD, emotional distress and lower QOL in breast cancer mainly due to chemotherapy and disease stage.
Ganz et al. [ 192]
Psychosocial adjustment 15 months after diagnosis in older women with breast cancer
Psychosocial adjustment at 15 months was predicted by better mental health, emotional social support and better self-rated interaction with health care providers.
Bordeleau et al. [ 193]
Randomized trial of group psychological support vs. control in metastatic breast cancer
Supportive-expressive group therapy did not appear to influence QOL.
Badger et al. [ 194]
Depression burden and psychological adjustment
Depression burden had negative effect on psychological adjustment and QOL.
Schreier and Williams [ 195]
Anxiety in women receiving either radiation or chemotherapy for breast cancer
No significant differences for total QOL or any subscales by treatment; trait anxiety was higher for chemotherapy patients; state anxiety was high and did not decrease over the course of the treatment for either group.
Kershaw et al. [ 196]
Coping strategies in advanced breast cancer patients and their family caregivers
Patients use more emotional support, religion and positive reframing strategies while family use more alcohol or drug. In both active coping was associated with higher QOL.
Lehto et al. [ 197]
Psychological stress factors as predictors of QOL in patients receiving surgery alone vs. adjuvant treatment
Psychosocial factors were strongest predictors of QOL but not cancer type or treatment; non-cancer related stresses showed strongest QOL decreasing influence.
Roth et al. [ 198]
Affective distress in women seeking immediate vs. delayed breast reconstruction after mastectomy
Women seeking immediate breast reconstruction showed relatively higher psychological impairment and physical disability.
Okamura et al. [ 199]
Psychiatric disorders and associated factors after first breast cancer recurrence
Patients' psychiatric disorders were associated with lower QOL.
Golden-Kreutz et al. [ 200]
Traumatic stress, perceived global stress, and life events
Initial stress at diagnosis predicted both psychological and physical health at follow-up.
Deshields et al. [ 201]
Emotional adjustment (at 4 points in time)
Primary psychological changes occur quickly after treatment conclusion and then it appeared to become stabled.
Laid law et al. [ 202]
Self-hypnosis or Japanese healing or. control
Positive change in anxiety level, a general increase in mood and a better QOL were observed.
Schou et al. [ 203]
Dispositional optimism and QOL.
Optimism was predictive for better emotional and social functioning one year after surgery; at time of diagnosis and throughout post-diagnosis dispositional optimism was associated with better QOL and fewer symptoms.
Grabsch et al. [ 204]
Psychological morbidity in advanced breast cancer
42% (97/277) had a psychiatric disorder, 36% depression or anxiety or both. QOL was substantially affected.
Antoni et al. [ 205]
Stress management after treatment for breast cancer
Stress management skill taught had beneficial effects on reduced social disruption, and increased emotional well-being, positive states of mind, benefit finding, positive lifestyle change, and positive affect.
Wonghongkul et al. [ 206]
Uncertainty appraisal coping
Social support was used most to cope and confront-coping used the least; year of survival, uncertainty in illness and harm appraisal influenced QOL.
Yen et al. [ 207]
Depression and stress in breast cancer versus benign tumor
Stress from health problem was the most significant predictor for QOL among malignant group.
Costanzo et al. [ 208]
Adjustment to life after treatment
While breast cancer survivors demonstrated good adjustment on general distress following treatment, some women were at risk for sustained distress.
Wong and Fielding [ 209]
Change in psychological distress and change in QOL
The magnitude of change in psychological distress significantly impacted physical and functional, but not social QOL in breast cancer patients.
Meneses et al. [ 210]
Psycho-educational intervention and QOL
Breast cancer education intervention is an effective intervention in improving QOL during the first year of breast cancer survivorship.
Psychological distress in breast cancer patients is mostly related to depression, anxiety, and low emotional functioning and almost all studies have shown that psychological distress contributed to impaired quality of life especially emotional functioning, social functioning, mental health and overall quality of life. The diagnosis of the disease, importance of fears and concerns regarding death and disease recurrence, impairment of body image, and alteration of femininity, sexuality and attractiveness are factors that can cause unexpected psychological distress even years after diagnosis and treatment [ 211213].
Studies have shown that psychological factors predict subsequent quality of life [ 200] or even overall survival in breast cancer patients [ 214]. A study showed that patients with lower coping capacity reported higher prevalence of symptoms, experienced higher levels of distress, and experienced worse perceived health, which in turn decreased their quality of life [ 215]. Furthermore, it has been shown that psychological adjustment such as the ability to cope with the disease, treatment and effects of treatment could improve outcome. The relationship between positive thinking and longer survival and a better quality of life is well documented [ 216].

Supportive care

A variety of topics were covered to address supportive care issues in breast cancer patients. These ranged from papers on controlling emesis to papers that reported issues related to counseling, social support and exercise to improve quality of life [ 217253]. The results are summarized in Table 10.
Table 10
A list of quality of life studies covering supportive care topics in breast cancer patients (1974–2007)
Author (s) [Ref.]
van Holten-Verzantvoort et al. [ 217]
Pamidronate vs. control to reduce skeletal morbidity
Less short-term mobility impairment and bone pain in treatment group but not at long term.
Young-McCaughan and Sexton [ 218]
Aerobic exercise
Higher QOL in women who exercised.
Soukop et al. [ 219]
Ondansetron vs. metoclopramide to control emesis
Ondansetron was significantly superior.
Kornblith et al. [ 220]
Megestrol acetate in dose-response trial to prevent appetite loss
Lower dose was optimal achieving fewest side effects and a better QOL.
Clavel et al. [ 221]
Ondansetron to control emesis (review of five randomized trials)
Ondansetron provided significant QOL benefits compared with metoclopramide and alizapride)
Ashbury et al. [ 222]
One-on-one peer support (Reach to Recovery programme)
Patients were satisfied and the programme had incremental benefits to QOL of patients.
Lee [ 223]
Social support (Reach to Recovery programme)
Social support plays a vital role in promoting overall QOL.
Wengstrom et al. [ 224]
Nursing intervention vs. control
No measurable effect on side effects or QOL but proved to have a positive effect in minimizing stress.
Lachaine et al. [ 225]
Ondansetron or metoclopramide to control emesis
Emesis control was significantly better in ondansetron; global QOL decreased more with metoclopramide.
Ritz et al. [ 226]
Advanced nursing care (APN)+ standard care vs. standard care
APN improved some QOL indicators.
Molenaar et al. [ 227]
Decision support to help patients to choose mastectomy or breast conservation
Decision-making improved as evaluated in terms of satisfaction and QOL.
Sammarco [ 228]
Perceived social support and uncertainty in younger breast cancer survivors
Significant positive correlation between perceived social support and QOL, and significant negative correlation between uncertainty, and QOL.
Michael et al. [ 229]
Social networks
Pre-diagnosis level of social integration was important factor in future QOL, and explains more of the variance than treatment or tumour characteristics.
Olsson et al. [ 230]
Erythropoietin (randomized to two different doses epoetin-beta) for treatment of anemia
Global QOL was significantly improved and there was no difference between two study arms.
O'Shaughnessy [ 231]
Effects of epoetin-alfa to prevent neuronal apoptosis vs. placebo
Improved cognitive function, mood and QOL in treatment group.
Graves et al. [ 232]
8-week intervention based on social cognitive theory vs. standard care
Women in intervention group improved more on QOL, mood, self-efficacy, and outcome expectations.
Courneya et al. [ 233]
Exercise training (randomized trial)
Exercise training had beneficial effects on QOL.
Turner [ 234]
Seated exercise
Reduced fatigue and improved QOL observed.
Headley et al. [ 235]
Effect of seated exercise vs. control
Women with advanced breast cancer randomized to the seated exercise had a slower decline in total physical well-being and less increase in fatigue.
Weinfurt et al. [ 236]
Zoledronic asid or pamidornate disodium for metastatic bone lesion
Overall increase in QOL was observed.
Diel et al. [ 237]
Ibandronate vs. placebo in breast cancer with metastatic bone pain
A significant improvement in QOL was observed in intervention group; fatigue and pain were also reduced.
Body et al. [ 238]
Ibandronate vs. placebo in breast cancer with metastatic bone pain
Oral ibandronate had beneficial effects on bone pain and QOL and was well tolerated.
Wardley et al. [ 239]
Zoledronic acid in community setting vs. hospital setting in breast cancer patients with bone metastases
No difference between settings; safety and QOL benefits were observed.
Yoo et al. [ 240]
Muscle relaxation training and guided imagery vs. control
Less anticipatory and post-chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and higher QOL in intervention group.
Manning-Walsh [ 241]
Relationships between persona land religious support and symptom distress and QOL
Personal support was positively related to QOL and had partial mediated effects on symptom distress but religious support was not.
Gordon et al. [ 242]
Home-based physiotherapy or group-based exercise or no intervention
Physiotherapy was found beneficial for functioning, physical and overall QOL.
Kendall et al. [ 243]
Influence of exercise (13.2 years following diagnosis)
High level of functioning was observed; those whose exercise increased, maintained a better QOL.
Chang et al. [ 244]
Effect of weekly epoetin alfa on maintaining hemoglobin levels, and reduction of transfusion vs. standard care
Epoetin alfa improved QOL, maintained hemoglobin levels and reduced of transfusion.
Hudis et al [ 245]
Effect of weekly epoetin alfa on hemoglobin levels
Epoetin alfa improved hemoglobin levels, and QOL in mildly anemic patients.
Badger et al. [ 246]
Telephone interpersonal counseling (TPC) vs. usual care
TIP-C was partially effective in symptom management and improved QOL.
Cheema and Gual [ 247]
Full-body exercise training (before and after evaluation study)
Significant improvements were observed in upper- and lower-body strength, endurance, and QOL.
Sutton and Erlen [ 248]
Mutual dyadic support intervention
Most dyadic relationships were supportive, some reciprocal and some experienced conflicts.
Round et al. [ 249]
Recovery advice to prevent treatment problems
Recovery advice given to women neither was supported nor refuted to be able improve QOL.
Giese-Davis et al. [ 250]
Peer counseling intervention (newly diagnosed and peer counselors)
Significant improvement in newly diagnosed was observed in trauma symptoms, emotional well-being, and self-efficacy but increased emotional suppression and declined QOL in peer counselors.
Moadel et al. [ 251]
Effects of yoga on QOL
Yoga was associated with beneficial effects on social functioning among breast cancer survivors.
Hartmann et al. [ 252]
Effects of a step-by-step inpatient rehabilitation programme and QOL
Although not generally superior to conventional inpatient rehabilitation programmes, the step-by-step rehabilitation provided marked benefits for patients with cognitive impairments.
Kim et al. [ 253]
Effect of complex decongestive therapy (CDT) on edema and QOL in breast cancer patients with unilateral leymphedema
CDT for upper limb lymphedema resulted in significant improved edema and QOL.


There were studies on breast cancer symptoms and their relationship to quality of life. Most of these studies were related to fatigue, lymphedema, pain, and menopausal symptoms. The results are summarized in Table 11[ 254280].
Table 11
A list of studies of quality of life and common symptoms in breast cancer patients (1974–2007)
Author (s) [Ref.]
Main focus
Hann et al. [ 254]
Fatigue following radiotherapy
Women experienced fatigue but not worse than expected.
Carpenter et al. [ 255]
Hot flushes
65% (n = 114) reported ht flushes, with 59% of women with hot flushes rating the symptom as severe; hot flushes were most severe in women with a higher body mass index, those who were younger at diagnosis, and those receiving tamoxifen.
Hann et al. [ 256]
Fatigue after high-dose therapy and autolougous stem cell rescue
Fatigue was related to medical and psychosocial factors.
Velanovich and Szymanski [ 257]
Lymphedema occurred in a minority of patients and negatively affected QOL.
Bower et al. [ 258]
Fatigue, occurrence, and correlates
About one-third (n = 1957) reported more severe fatigue which was associate with higher level of depression, pain, and sleep difficulties.
Kuehn [ 259]
Surgery related symptoms following ALND
Shoulder-arm morbidity following ALND was found to be the most important long-term sources of distress.
Stein et al. [ 260]
Hot flushes
Hot flushes have a negative impact on QOL that may be due to fatigue and interference with sleep.
Beaulac et al. [ 261]
Lymphedema in survivors of early-stage breast cancer
MAS or BCS patients had similar lymphedema rates (28%–42/151) and had negative impact on long-term QOL in survivors.
Kwan et al. [ 262]
Arm morbidity after curative breast cancer treatment
Symptomatic patients and patients with lymphedema had impaired QOL compared to patients with no symptoms.
Fortner et al. [ 263]
Sleep difficulties
Most patients had significant sleep problems that frequently being disturbed by pain, nocturia, feeling too hot, and coughing or snoring loudly; patients having significant sleep problems had greater deficits in QOL.
Engel et al. [ 264]
Arm morbidity
Up to 5 years after diagnosis 38% (n = 990) were still experienced arm problems and for these patients QOL was significantly lower than patients without arm morbidity; extent of axilla, younger age, and operating clinic significantly contributed to arm morbidity.
Caffo et al. [ 265]
Pain after surgery
Pain distressed 40% of patients (n = 529) regardless of treatment type and had negative effect on patients' QOL.
Rietman et al. [ 266]
Impairments and disabilities (2.7 years after surgery)
Pain was the most frequent assessed impairment after breast cancer treatment with strong relationship to perceived disability and QOL.
Schults et al. [ 267]
Menopausal symptoms
Menopausal signs and symptoms may not be different or the breast cancer survivors and they should not be confused with the QOL/psychosocial issues of the cancer survivors.
Ridner [ 268]
Survivors with lymphedema reported poorer QOL; a symptom cluster including limb sensation, loss of confidence in body, decreased physical activity, fatigue and psychological distress was identified.
Conde et al. [ 269]
Menopausal symptoms
Prevalence of menopausal symptoms was similar in women with and without breast cancer; sexual activity was less frequent in breast cancer patients.
Burckhardt et al. [ 270]
Widespread pain significantly caused more experience of pain severity, pain impact and lower physical health than regional pain.
Mills et al. [ 271]
Pre-chemotherapy and chemotherapy induced inflammation were related to fatigue and QOL.
Massacesi [ 272]
Effects of endocrine related symptoms in breast cancer who had switched from tamoxifen to anastrozole
Endocrine related symptoms improved but higher rate of mild arthritic and bone pain were reported.
Land et al. [ 273]
Tamoxifen or raloxifene related symptoms
No significant differences between groups; tamoxifen group reported better sexual function, more gynecological problems and vasomotor symptoms while raloxifene group reported more musculoskeletal problems and weight gain.
Heidrich et al. [ 274]
Symptoms, and symptom beliefs in older breast cancer patients vs. older women without breast cancer
Symptom experience and QOL of older breast cancer survivors were similar to those of older women with other chronic health problems.
Gupta et al. [ 275]
Menopausal symptoms
96% reported vasomotor, 83% psychological and 90% somatic symptoms (n = 200) which negatively correlated not only their own but also with their partners' QOL.
Byar et al. [ 276]
Fatigue was associated with other physical and psychological symptoms and higher fatigue compromised QOL.
Arndt et al. [ 277]
Fatigue emerged as the strongest predictor of QOL.
Pyszel et al. [ 278]
Disability, and psychological distress in breast cancer survivors with and without lymphedema
Patients with arm lymphedema were more disabled, experienced a poorer QOL and had increased psychological distress in comparison to those without lymphedema.
Dagnelie et al. [ 279]
Of all QOL domains/subscales, fatigue is by far the predominant contributor to patient-perceived overall QOL in breast cancer patients preceding high-dose radiotherapy.
Janz et al. [ 280]
Relationship between symptoms and post-treatment QOL
Five most common symptoms were: systemic therapy side effects, fatigue, breast symptoms, sleep difficulties, and arm symptoms. Fatigue had the greatest impact on QOL.
ALND: axillary lymph node dissection, ASCT: autologous stem cell transplantation, SLNB: sentinel lymph node biopsy.
Fatigue is the least definable symptom experienced by patients with breast cancer and its effect on impaired quality of life cannot be explained precisely. A recent publication studying 1,588 breast cancer patients showed that fatigue (as measured by the EORTC QLQ-C30 fatigue subscale) independently predicted longer recurrence-free survival when biological factors were controlled in the analysis. When combined with the biological model, fatigue still remained a significant predictor of recurrence-free survival [ 214].

Sexual functioning

Breast cancer could be regarded as a disease that relates to women's identities. In this respect, sexual functioning is an important issue, especially in younger breast cancer patients. Among quality of life studies in breast cancer patients only six papers focused especially on sexual functioning [ 281286]. The findings indicated that disrupted sexual functioning or unsatisfactory sexual life was related to poorer quality of life at younger age, treatment with chemotherapy, total mastectomy, emotional distress consequent on an unsatisfactory sexual life, and difficulties with partners because of sexual relationships.


This bibliographic review has provided an extensive list of studies that focused on quality of life in breast cancer patients. The article might be criticized on the grounds that it included every paper on the topic and that it provides more enumeration than insight. However, this was not an in-depth review but rather, as indicated in the title, a bibliographic investigation and descriptive in nature. The benefit of such an approach is that it reveals how much effort has been made in this area and shows the achievements of a journey that was started more than 30 years ago. If quality of life has now become an important part of breast cancer patients' care, it is due to all these efforts. Furthermore, this approach might help potential investigators to formulate new questions or conduct more focused studies on the topic in the future. It should be admitted that investigations of this type have limitations and are inconclusive. Since in this review the search strategy was limited to the key words 'quality of life' and 'breast cancer' in titles, perhaps many other papers also were missed even from enumeration. However, an up coming complementary review by the author will focus on these missing papers.
A number of studies that covered measurement issues and introduced instruments used to measure quality of life in breast cancer patients. Hopefully there is now sufficient evidence to use these valid instruments and to adopt the practices that are needed to assess quality of life in research or clinical settings. Since 1974, when the first study on quality of life in breast cancer patients was published, there has been quite impressive progress and improvement, indicating that measuring quality of life in breast cancer patients is both crucial and scientific. Now several valid instruments that capture quality of life dimensions in cancer patients in general and in breast cancer patients in particular are available. The EORTC QLQ-C30, EORTC QLQ-BR23, FACIT-G and FACIT-B are among the most acceptable instruments to patients and health professionals. They have been used in many studies, so it is possible to compare results between studies with similar objectives. It seems that it is time to stop developing new instruments, since there are enough valid and comprehensive measures to assess quality of life in breast cancer patients. New instruments might cause confusion and may be regarded as a waste of resources, so any such developments would need robust justification. Depending on the objectives of any single study, one might use other existing valid measures such as the Satisfaction with Life Domains Scale for Breast Cancer (SLDS-BC), which can briefly and rapidly assess quality of life across the breast cancer continuum of care [ 287]; the Body Image After Breast Cancer Questionnaire (BIBCQ); which is a valid measure for assessing the long-term impact of breast cancer on body image [ 288]; and the Fallowfield's Sexual Activity Questionnaire (FSAQ), which is a useful tool for measuring sexual activity in women with cancer [ 289].
There were some important technical issues that should be addressed. Some believe that if we perform complex analyses of quality of life data or if we use several instruments in a single study then we might achieve more scientific results. There is evidence that this could merely lead to misleading findings and might be a source of suffering for the patients [ 84]. The recommendation is to analyze data in a simple way and avoid complexity. The presentation of data should be straightforward and easy to follow; otherwise those who are critical of such findings might conclude that these are manipulations of data, or they might ask whether these numbers and statistics reflect what really happens to breast cancer patients or the clinical teams that care for them. Do these figures convey difficulties that exist in treating breast cancer patients or help to manage their symptoms?
The present review covered several topics and provided tables to indicate areas that need more attention. It appears that the most common and important disease- and treatment-related side-effects and symptoms in breast cancer patients including arm morbidity, pain, fatigue and postmenopausal symptoms, are among neglected topics. As noted by Cella and Fallowfield, recognition and management of treatment-related side-effects for breast cancer patients receiving adjuvant endocrine therapy is an important issue since such side-effects negatively affect health-related quality of life and adherences to therapy. These authors argue that adverse events constitute the main reason for non-adherence to endocrine treatment, and across all adjuvant endocrine trials regardless of the treatment, vasomotor symptoms such as hot flushes are the most common side effects. Other frequently reported side-effects such as vaginal discharge, vaginal dryness, dyspareunia, and arthralgia vary in prevalence between tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors [ 290]. It has been recommended that currently in assessing quality of life in breast cancer patients priorities should be given to cognitive functioning, menopausal symptoms, body image and long-term effects of new therapies that might cause musculoskeletal and neurological side-effects [ 35]. In addition, sexual functioning seems important area that needs more attention, especially for younger breast cancer survivors. It is argued that younger survivors may need interventions that specifically target their needs related to menopausal symptoms and problems with relationships, sexual functioning and body image [ 291].
There were few qualitative studies. Since these could provide more insight into quality of life in breast cancer patients, we need more such studies to collect data and indicate how breast cancer patients interpret life after diagnosis and during and after treatment. Breast cancer survivors even might rate their quality of life more favorably than outpatients with other common medical conditions and identify many positive aspects from the cancer experience [ 180]. However, it is not only the study of quality of life in newly diagnosed breast cancer patients that is necessary; studying quality of life in long-term survivors is equally important. As suggested, when assessing quality of life in breast cancer patients, the stage of disease should also be considered. There are differences in quality of life between patients with non-invasive breast cancer, newly diagnosed breast cancer and advanced local breast cancer, and disease-free breast cancer survivors, women with recurrence breast cancer, and women with advanced metastatic breast cancer [ 292].


There was quite an extensive body of the literature on quality of life in breast cancer patients. These papers have made a considerable contribution to improving breast cancer care, although their exact benefit was hard to define. However, quality of life data provided scientific evidence for clinical decision-making and conveyed helpful information concerning breast cancer patients' experiences during the course of the disease diagnosis, treatment, disease-free survival time, and recurrences; otherwise finding patient-centered solutions for evidence-based selection of optimal treatments, psychosocial interventions, patient-physician communications, allocation of resources, and indicating research priorities were impossible. It seems that more qualitative research is needed for a better understanding of the topic. In addition, issues related to the disease, its treatment side effects and symptoms, and sexual functioning should receive more attention when studying quality of life in breast cancer patients.


The author wishes to thanks Dr. Elena Elkin, Dr. Lonneke van de Poll-Franse, and Dr. Su Wilson for their helpful comments on early version of the manuscript and also Mrs. T. Rostami for her secretarial assistance. This was a piece of pure academic research work and the author did not receive any financial support or grant for the study.
This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://​creativecommons.​org/​licenses/​by/​2.​0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Competing interests

The author declares that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

The author carried out this review and wrote the manuscript, and prepared all the tables and the additional file.
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