Open Wounds and Healed Scars: A Qualitative Study of Elderly Women's Experiences With Breast Cancer

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Abstract

Background

Breast cancer is more prevalent among women 60 years or older than among women younger than 60 years. However, we know much more about the breast cancer experiences of younger women than of older women. Such knowledge is important, for example, to guide treatment decisions or to provide psychosocial care.

Objective

The aim of this study was to gain insight into the experiences of women with breast cancer 70 years or older.

Methods

Semistructured interviews were conducted with 21 older patients with breast cancer in the Netherlands. We used open coding and affinity diagramming to evoke the themes reflecting the experiences of these women.

Results

Four themes emerged from the data: living through and coping with breast cancer, information exchange and informed choice, support experiences, and impact on daily life. Getting breast cancer took some women by surprise. However, older women with breast cancer coped fairly well and were satisfied with the support they received, especially from oncology nurses. Disturbing treatment adverse effects and changes in appearance, comorbid diseases, lack of clear information, and/or an unsupportive environment complicated their living with breast cancer.

Conclusions

Even though many older women with breast cancer handle their disease rather well, some women do encounter difficulties. Lack of support, comorbid diseases, and treatment adverse effects warrant extra attention.

Implications for Practice

Nurses’ close attention to women at risk and early intervention could help relieve individual suffering, while taking these womens’ strengths into account can enhance self-management.

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