NEWS RELEASE, 09/27/98

Federal government awards UC Berkeley professor $1.7 million to study breast cancer survivors in the Bay Area

By Patricia McBroom, Public Affairs

BERKELEY -- A professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has been awarded the largest of three major federal grants to study the long term psychological and physical well being of young women who have survived breast cancer.

Professor of Public Health Joan Bloom will receive $1.7 million over four years to follow up on changes in the lives of 336 Bay Area women under age 50 who were diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in 1994.

The grant is expected to be announced on Saturday in Washington, D.C., during a march involving people who have survived many different forms of cancer. The project was one of 13 cancer survivor research projects approved by the National Cancer Institute for a total of $15 million.

The 336 women in the Bloom study have now lived almost five years after treatment and have joined the growing ranks of breast cancer survivors - an estimated two million women. The survival rate for younger breast cancer patients has climbed from 76 percent to 81 percent in the past two decades, marking a shift from an emphasis on treatment strategies to living with the consequences of the disease.

Bloom's collaborators in the study include researchers at the Northern California Cancer Center, Stanford University, the University of California, San Francisco, and Kaiser Permanente. They will begin interviews with the woman in January and conclude them by the end of 1999.

The sample is of particular interest because it represents nearly all women under age 50 diagnosed with breast cancer during a seven month period in five Bay Area counties: San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Francisco.

This unusually complete group provides an excellent baseline from which to evaluate changes in the lives of survivors, said Bloom. Very little is known about the long term well-being of breast cancer survivors and even less about the younger, under-50 group, said Bloom.

Bloom's follow-up interviews with the 336 women will track changes in their lives in five areas:

o Marital status, intimacy and sexual relationships.

o Relationships with spouses, children and other family members.

o Treatment consequences such as breast reconstruction and sudden menopause.

o Work-related issues, including evidence of job discrimination or problems getting health insurance.

o Quality of life at both the physical and mental level, including spirituality.

Past research has indicated that the acute emotional distress of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment fades after a year, but that psychological issues concerning sexuality and body image increase with time. Other research, however, suggests that long-term survivors recover their enjoyment of life and may even experience positive psychological outcomes from the trauma.

Results from the Bloom study should go far toward providing answers and guidance for breast cancer survivors.

The study also will include an intervention phase in which survivors will be offered the opportunity to join workshops dealing with their issues. Another 825 women who were diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in the Bay Area during the years 1994 through 1996 will be invited to participate in this phase.

Bloom currently is completing an intervention study on some 400 women from the second group and is finding preliminary indications that, while social supports are critical in times of crisis such as breast cancer diagnosis, adequate support often is lacking.

"Partners, other family members, friends, children and co-workers are eager to get past the disruptions created by discovery of breast cancer and its treatment," said Bloom, "so that life can return to normal.

"These significant others, therefore, discourage discussion of breast cancer after treatment is completed, leaving women to work through their unresolved questions and feelings in isolation."

Other grants for studies of breast cancer survivors were made to researchers at the University of Miami and Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina.

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