Symptoms, Symptom Beliefs, and Quality of Life of Older Breast Cancer Survivors: A Comparative Study

Susan M. Heidrich

Judith J. Egan

Pornpat Hengudomsub

Shanna M. Randolph

ONF 2007, 33(2), 315-322. DOI: 10.1188/06.ONF.315-322

Purpose/Objectives: To compare symptoms, symptom beliefs, and quality of life (QOL) of older breast cancer survivors to those of older women without breast cancer.

Design: Descriptive, correlational study.

Setting: Urban and rural communities in the Midwest United States.

Sample: 18 breast cancer survivors and 24 women without breast cancer, older than age 64 (X age = 76 years).

Methods: In-home interviews using structured instruments.

Main Research Variables: Symptom distress (number of and distress from symptoms), symptom beliefs, chronic health problems, and QOL.

Findings: No group differences existed in demographic characteristics, symptom number, symptom bother, chronic health conditions, or QOL. Women in both groups most often attributed the cause of their symptoms to aging, chronic illness, or unknown, but rarely to breast cancer. Attributing symptoms to chronic illness or breast cancer was significantly related to more pain, depression, role impairment, and poorer mental health. Not knowing the cause of symptoms was significantly related to poorer social functioning, mental health, and purpose in life; less energy; and higher levels of depression and anxiety.

Conclusions: The symptom experience and QOL of older breast cancer survivors are similar to those of older women with other chronic health problems. Beliefs about symptoms influence QOL in older women.

Implications for Nursing: A broader assessment of symptoms is needed to assist older breast cancer survivors with symptom management. Symptom interventions in older women should address patients' beliefs about symptoms if QOL is to be enhanced.

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