Fatigue among long-term breast cancer survivors: a controlled cross-sectional study

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Published: 8 Oct 2020
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Dr Saskia Maass- University of Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands

Dr Saskia Maass speaks to ecancer about a controlled cross-sectional study investigating fatigue amongst long-term breast cancer survivors.

Survivors have noted fatigue and lethargy 5 years after treatment so this investigation was carried out to find out the reasons behind this complaint.

A comparison was done between women with a breast cancer history and non-breast cancer history who came to the GP with this complaint.

Dr Saskia Maass then explains the results of the study which showed that 1 out 4 women who had a breast cancer history came up with this complaint 5 and even 10 years after cancer treatment and this was also linked with anxiety and depression in some cases.

She highlights how these results can help improve the quality of life of these survivors and how further interaction with these patients can help them have a better life.

As you all know, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and most of the research being done has been done within the first five years when the women are still under the control of the hospital. But I’m a GP in training, I work from the GP’s office and we see these women back after five years and we notice that they still have a lot of complaints. So that’s one of the reasons why we started this study.

What were your methods?

What we did is we included 350 women who were more than five years after a breast cancer diagnosis from different GP offices. With that we also included 350 women who were from the same age and the same GP but without a cancer background. That was our methods, to also compare these women and see what the late effects could be.

What did you find?

For this part of the study we found that one in four breast cancer survivors still experienced fatigue and quite severe fatigue, multidimensional fatigue which is both mental fatigue and physical fatigue. One in four is quite high but obviously three in four did not so that’s also a positive message.

What we can conclude from these findings is that one in four breast cancer survivors will still experience fatigue; even our study had a median of 10 years after diagnosis, still experience fatigue. We also saw associations with symptoms of anxiety and symptoms of depression which might be a lead to how we can improve these complaints.

What could be some of the implications of this study?

One of the implications of our study could be that there is more attention for it. So women who actually experience this fatigue will feel free to come forward with these complaints and the GP will recognise them and also be able to possibly help them with it. Also the recognition that it is still attached to the breast cancer even though it was more than ten years ago.

The thing I would like to add is that after our study was conducted we also set up a meeting where we met up with all the participants and obviously gave our results of our study but also got to talk to them and see how they experienced these symptoms. That was very inspiring so I would recommend everyone who is conducting a study to also after the study is finished sit with the participants and talk to them about the results.