Patients rate appearance as 'fair' after breast-conserving treatments

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Breast cancer patients may feel less satisfied with posttreatment breast appearance than doctors predicted, according to a study presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.  

According to background information provided in the press release announcing the findings, currently, more than half of breast cancer patients undergo both lumpectomy and radiation, a combination that offers the best chance of cure while avoiding complete removal of the breast for women with Stage I or II cancer.

The study, conducted by investigators from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, involved analyzing data from surveys completed by 503 patients who had a lumpectomy followed by radiotherapy.

Investigators found that one-third of breast cancer survivors who received the breast-conserving treatments rate the appearance of their posttreatment breast as only “fair” or “poor” in comparison to their untreated breast. Specifically, the findings showed that 16% reported “excellent” cosmesis, 52% “good,” 30% “fair,” and 2% “poor.”

“Most patients are ultimately happy they were able to preserve their breast, but our study shows that often, how they feel about the way they look after treatment is not as good as doctors would have predicted,” said lead author Christine Hill-Kayser, MD, an assistant professor of Radiation Oncology at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center.

Further results revealed that one-fifth of patients report complications including chronic pain in their breast or arm and loss of arm or shoulder flexibility following their treatment. Specifically, 43% of women who had breast conserving treatments reported chronic skin or soft tissue changes, 22% reported chronic pain in the breast or arm, 21% had suffered a loss of arm or shoulder flexibility, and 8% had chronic swelling.

“As cure rates for breast and other cancers continue to improve, attention to survivorship issues is more important than ever before,” said Dr. Hill-Kayser. “Understanding more about the way that survivors feel after their treatment is one step towards helping patients live as well as possible after cancer.”

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