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BCRF Research Portfolio Highlight- Survivorship and Ensuring Quality of Life

By BCRF | January 9, 2017

In 2016 BCRF invested nearly $2 million in research aimed at improving quality of life


“One of the most important aspects of oncology is ensuring patients have the best quality of life possible” – Dr. Patricia Ganz, BCRF investigator since 2001 and member, BCRF Scientific Advisory Board

Advances in early detection and treatment have largely contributed to a decline in deaths due to breast cancer over the past two decades, creating the largest cancer survivorship group in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, there were an estimated 3.5 million women in the U.S. living with a history of breast cancer at the start of 20161 .

Just as breast cancer is a very heterogeneous disease, those diagnosed with breast cancer are a diverse group of people.  Life after breast cancer (a period referred to as survivorship2) is a unique experience for each woman or man and is influenced by many factors including age, hereditary factors, socioeconomic status, geographic factors (urban vs. rural), family and social support networks, health insurance and others.

The goal of breast cancer treatment is to extend the lives of patients, but those life-saving treatments can have both physical and emotional effects. Treatment-induced symptoms such as peripheral neuropathy (pain or numbness in the fingers or feet), lymphedema (build-up of lymph fluid under your skin causing uncomfortable swelling in the arms and hands), sexual dysfunction (such as vaginal dryness and loss of libido) and cognitive impairment (sometimes called chemo brain) can persist long after the treatment has ended. Because women are living longer after breast cancer, managing the long term side effects of treatment is important to the quality of life during those extended years.

Additionally, in 20-30 percent of breast cancer patients, the breast cancer may ultimately spread to other organs (a process called metastasis)3. These women and men also experience many of the same physical and emotional effects from previous and ongoing treatments. Because MBC patients remain on treatment their symptoms can become quite severe, such as chronic and debilitating pain, diarrhea and nausea. These physical symptoms may be in addition to psychosocial issues resulting from a loss of role in one’s family, work and community, loss of independence as disease progresses and emotional health issues such as anxiety and depression, among other possible and changing physical and emotional effects4.

In 2016 BCRF invested nearly $2 million in research aimed at improving quality of life for all those who have had a breast cancer diagnosis throughout the course of their disease.

BCRF investigators are studying:  

  • Sexual health after breast cancer, including understanding how vaginal symptoms, fatigue, body image, and partner issues predict overall sexual health; how to improve vaginal symptoms of dryness and pain; evaluating hypnosis as an intervention for self/body-image; testing non-estrogenic agents for the management of hot flashes. Read about the research of Drs. Debra Barton, Charles Loprinzi, and Carol Fabian.  

  • Factors that may help and hinder breast cancer survivors with regard to their psychological, social, and physical health to translate research into evidence-based approaches to promote health during and after breast cancer. Read about the work of Dr. Ann Partridge.

  • The unique needs of elderly breast cancer patients and factors that affect their outcomes to design innovative interventions to improve outcomes and quality of life. Read about the work of Drs. Arti Hurria and Hyman Muss.

  • Practical and educational interventions to reduce stress and improve self-confidence, self-esteem and overall well-being in women with breast cancer.  Read about the work of Dame Lesley Fallowfield.

  • Cognitive function after breast cancer treatment to understand how certain breast cancer treatments may accelerate the development of age-related cognitive decline. Read about the work of Dr. Patricia Ganz.

  • Barriers to quality cancer care in order to improve quality of care, reduce overuse and improve breast cancer survivorship and develop patient-oriented interventional studies. Read about the work of Dr. Dawn Hershman

  • The role of diet, exercise, medication adherence, and body weight on breast cancer and survivorship issues in women at high risk for breast cancer and develop and test innovative biomedical and behavioral interventions for preventing breast cancer recurrence. Read about the work of Drs. Melinda Irwin and Electra Paskett.

With BCRF support, researchers are working to personalize care and better predict and manage side effects, in order to not only increase lifespan with more effective therapies, but improve the quality of life for patients after treatment has ended.



1 Cancer Treatment & Survivorship Facts & Figures 2016-2017. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2016

2 BCRF acknowledges that not all persons with a history of breast cancer identify with the term survivor.

3 Extending survival with chemotherapy in metastatic breast cancer. O’Shaughnessy J. The Oncologist. 2005.

4 Changing the Landscape for People Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer. Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance(; 2014