Worse physical health a sign of worse outcomes in breast cancer

Breast cancer survivors who scored low on a physical health scale were 27% more likely to experience a cancer recurrence or develop a new cancer than women achieving higher scores. These patients also ran a 65% higher risk of death from any cause.

John P. Pierce, PhD—the Sam M. Walton professor for cancer prevention and associate director for population sciences at the University of California San Diego Moores Cancer Center—and associates analyzed data from the After Breast Cancer Pooling Project to determine the relationship between poor physical health and survival. Physical health scores from 9,387 survivors of early-stage breast cancer were obtained over the course of 15 years from the SF-36, a short-form survey of mental and physical health that was administered after diagnosis. The physical health score reflects such information as how a person perceives his or her own physical functioning, bodily pain, and limitations caused by physical problems.

Approximately half the women in the sample were deemed to be in poor physical health as defined by the survey. In addition to the heightened risks for cancer recurrence, new cancer, and death among these patients noted over a median follow-up period of 7.8 years, the researchers observed the following: Compared with their healthier counterparts, women in poor health had a higher body mass index (BMI), were less physically active, were 64% more likely to have sleep difficulties, had 50% higher rates of hypertension and diabetes, and were twice as likely to have arthritis.

“The importance of the [physical-health score] as a predictor of future breast cancer events and overall survival appears to be confirmed in these observational studies,” noted the investigators in their study abstract, presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), held April 2-6, 2011, in Orlando, Florida. “Interventions to improve the [score] and prognosis might target weight control, physical activity, and sleep management.”


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