Breast Cancer Survivors’ Unmet Needs After Completion of Radiation Therapy Treatment

Michelle Pembroke, PhD, RN, OCN®; Julie Bradley, MD; Lynne S. Nemeth, PhD, RN, FAAN


Purpose: To identify the unmet needs of breast cancer survivors after radiation therapy.

Participants & Setting: Patients who received radiation therapy for unilateral breast cancer with six months or longer of follow-up and exhibited no disease progression were eligible for selection to a study conducted at an outpatient radiation therapy academic practice in the southeastern United States.

Methodologic Approach: A qualitative descriptive study was undertaken using semistructured interviews, framed by the five domains of the Survivor Unmet Needs Survey and analyzed using an iterative inductive and deductive process.

Findings: Of the 24 invited patients, 17 agreed to the interview (including one male patient). Themes emerged from the emotional, relationships, and information needs domains: (a) the struggle with adapting to body image changes; (b) living with the fear of recurrence; (c) the unexpected impact of radiation dermatitis; and (d) the need for education to prepare for radiation therapy.

Implications for Nursing: Healthcare providers should perform a comprehensive needs assessment for patients with breast cancer receiving radiation therapy. Self-management assessment instruments may address patients’ confidence in managing all phases of radiation therapy side effects.

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