Higher risk of chronic diseases later in life for women with breast cancer

Mammogram film image in female doctor's handsWomen who receive hormonal therapy for breast cancer are at increased risk of developing chronic conditions later in life, according to new research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

A study led by UniSA PhD candidate Huah Shin Ng found that rates of depression, osteoporosis, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, pain and gastric disorders were higher among breast cancer survivors who had received hormonal cancer treatment than among those without breast cancer.

Hormonal therapy, also known as endocrine therapy, is currently used to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence for 70% of breast cancers in Australia.

It is typically administered after surgery or a course of chemotherapy, and/or radiation.

The study compared the health of two groups of women over a 10-year period. The first group comprised women who were receiving hormonal therapy for breast cancer and the second group was made up of women of a similar age who did not have breast cancer.

The emergence of chronic disease and the frequency with which it developed was mapped in both groups.

The researchers found that chronic illnesses developed more frequently in women with breast cancer and the risk for cardiovascular conditions, depression and osteoporosis was greatest during their first year of hormonal therapy.

“There are a number of potential explanations for having an elevated risk of developing chronic illnesses," Huah Shin says.

"Several chronic conditions and breast cancer share common risk factors such as excessive alcohol consumption, obesity and physical inactivity. The higher occurrence of chronic conditions may reflect greater awareness and increased health care use associated with the treatment of breast cancer. Cancer medications may also contribute to developing chronic conditions."

The study was the first of its kind in Australia to comprehensively examine the relationship between a diagnosis of hormone-dependent breast cancer and the development of successive chronic diseases.

“Our results support the need to develop appropriate models of care to manage multiple chronic illnesses of breast cancer survivors. The study was, however, limited by the use of a single dataset. Additional data would help us obtain a more comprehensive overview of chronic disease profiles in cancer survivors." 

Huah Shin Ng is a PhD candidate in UniSA’s School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences and is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship. Her co-authors and supervisors are Dr Agnes Vitry and Professor David Roder from the University of South Australia and Professor Bogda Koczwara from Flinders University.

Associate Professor Theo Niyonsenga from UniSA’s School of Health Sciences was also part of the study.

The study is available at: Ng HS, Koczwara B, Roder DM, Niyonsenga T and Vitry AI. ‘Comorbidities in Australian women with hormone-dependent breast cancer: a population-based analysis’, Medical Journal of Australia, 15 January 2018, vol. 208, no. 1, pp 24-28, doi: 10.5694/mja17.00006.

 

Media contact: Candy Gibson mobile 0434 605 142 email mailto:candy.gibson@unisa.edu.au

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