ANNOUNCER: The treatment of breast cancer, especially in its earliest stages has improved dramatically in recent years. And as treatments improve, health care professionals are paying more attention to the impact of cancer and cancer treatment on patients' lives.
WENDY CHEN, MD: Quality of life really can be affected by cancer in many different ways. The one that first always comes up to people's mind is the physical aspects, and those are very practical things, such as nausea, fatigue and pain. There are a lot of body image things as well, especially for women with breast cancer that they're undergoing disfiguring surgery, or they lose their hair and those are a big part of someone's own sense of themselves.
ANNOUNCER: Cancer can also affect a patient's social interactions.
WENDY CHEN, MD: Someone may not be able to do all the things that they normally do. Mom may not be able to take kids to all of the soccer games. The other thing, which sometimes people don't feel comfortable talking about, but sexual functioning, is part of quality of life as well. So someone may not be able to have the usual kind of relationship with their partner because of either side effects due to the cancer and due to the treatment.
ANNOUNCER: Researchers are studying the relationship between breast cancer treatment and quality of life.
KIMBERLY BLACKWELL, MD: The good news about the treatment of breast cancer is that there's now a heightened awareness of how - as we develop more effective therapies and women are living longer - how each of these therapies affects women's days-to-days existence.
Quality of life in early stage breast cancer is probably one of the most important research subjects ongoing right now in the field of breast cancer. Early stage breast cancer is such that women who are completely healthy with no concerning health issues once they're diagnosed with breast cancer have to go - undergo many times a series of fairly aggressive therapies in order to try and many times successfully prevent their breast cancer from coming back.
ANNOUNCER: Researchers have developed ways of analyzing quality of life in various settings that allow them to closely examine the impact of these therapies.
KIMBERLY BLACKWELL, MD: How does the treatment affect her while she's getting it, but more importantly for that extended period after her diagnosis and after her real acute treatment for her breast cancer - where is she after that treatment as compared to where she started?
WENDY CHEN, MD: It gives us the ability to study various treatments in different treatment centers, for instance, and compare them in a more rigorous, scientific way
ANNOUNCER: Metastatic breast cancer patients may especially face issues related to quality of life.
KIMBERLY BLACKWELL, MD: It's very, very difficult - at least today - to offer long-term cures to women with metastatic breast cancer. The most important goal in treating metastatic breast cancer - is to make certain that women not only live a long time, but live a good quality of life so that when that cure does come, they'll be here to receive it.
ANNOUNCER: Research findings may point to treatments that have less impact on a patient's quality of life.
WENDY CHEN, MD: If you were looking at how does a treatment effect someone's pain, then you would be able to say that one treatment is associated with better pain relief than the other or better treatment of nausea or a better treatment of fatigue. The other thing is looking, for instance, at sexual functioning, that one hormonal treatment, for instance, may have less impact on sexual functioning than another hormonal treatment.
ANNOUNCER: Some treatments may cause a patient to spend fewer days in the hospital and miss fewer days of work.
WENDY CHEN, MD: The fact that the more time that you can spend at home, the more that you're able to function the way that you normally function that we would feel that would be consistent with a good quality of life.
The hope of quality of life research is that you would be able to scientifically and rigorously measure these things so that you could determine which treatment is associated with a better quality of life than the other and then therefore you would then be able to choose that treatment.
ANNOUNCER: Newer therapies for breast cancer have improved survival and cure rates. Research is also pointing towards ways to help women maintain their best possible quality of life while they are being treated.