Examining Sleep Disturbance and Quality of Life among Breast Cancer Survivors

December 12, 2018

On December 5th, 2018 we presented new research findings on a study of more than 600 women with breast cancer at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in San Antonio, TX. Below is a post about the significance of these findings for women diagnosed with breast cancer and for breast cancer care providers.

Sleep problems are a common experience of women with breast cancer. We know that such problems can negatively affect quality of life and mental health, as they are frequently accompanied by emotional concerns like depression and anxiety. Using data from our Cancer Experience Registry®, we studied how sleep disturbance relates to pain, anxiety, and depression among women with breast cancer.

What did we do?

We examined reported sleep disturbance and the level to which pain interfered with daily life, and were able to use our CancerSupportSource® distress screening tool to assess risk for clinically significant levels of anxiety and depression. Importantly, we also looked at the relationship between pain, risk for depression and anxiety, and sleep disturbance, with special consideration given to the presence of metastatic disease.

What did we find?

Almost half the women in our sample reported having major sleep disturbance concerns, regardless of whether or not they had metastatic disease. In fact, 20 percent reported a level of sleep disturbance worse than that found in the general U.S. population. We also found that almost half of our sample was at risk for significant anxiety, and nearly 4 in 10 for significant depression. Women with metastatic cancer were more likely to be at risk for significant levels of anxiety, but we did not find any differences in the risk for significant depression. Altogether, we found that risk for anxiety, risk for depression, and greater reported levels of pain were related to more reported sleep problems for women with breast cancer.

What comes next?

Factors such as pain interference and risk for depression and anxiety should be considered during treatment when a breast cancer patient or survivor is reporting sleep disturbance concerns, as we have demonstrated that these symptoms are often related. We encourage health care providers to discuss with their patients how they can best address these concerns, and provide referrals to integrative therapies that can address emotional, pain, and sleep symptoms.

You can view the poster from the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium here.

Share Your Experience

At the Cancer Support Community, innovative patient-focused research is at the heart of what we do. We can’t accomplish this without insight from those impacted by cancer, and that is why we ask patients, survivors, and caregivers to share their stories by participating in the Cancer Experience Registry®, a free, confidential survey that is open to anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer or provides care to someone with cancer.