UMass Chan Medical School Faculty Publications


Depression and quality of life before and after breast cancer diagnosis in older women from the Women's Health Initiative

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Medicine, Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine; UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center

Publication Date


Document Type



Mental and Social Health | Neoplasms | Psychiatry and Psychology | Women's Health


PURPOSE: Distress and reduced quality of life (QOL) are common among people with cancer. No study has compared these variables after breast cancer diagnosis to pre-cancer diagnosis levels.

METHODS: Data on women with breast cancer 50 years of age or older (n = 6949) were analyzed from the Women's Health Initiative (1993-2013). Health-related QOL (physical function, mental health) was measured using Rand-36. Depressive symptoms were measured with the six-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale. Assessments occurred before and after the cancer diagnosis. Hierarchical linear modeling compared pre-cancer QOL and depressive symptoms to levels post-diagnosis and tested whether pre-cancer physical activity, stressful life events, sleep disturbance, and pain predicted post-diagnosis outcomes.

RESULTS: Compared with pre-cancer levels, depressive symptoms increased (20.0 % increase at 0-6 months, 12.9 % increase at 6-12 months), while physical function (-3.882 points at 0-6 months, -3.545 at 6-12 months) and mental health decreased (-2.899 points at 0-6 months, -1.672 at 6-12 months) in the first year after diagnosis (all p < .01). Depressive symptoms returned to pre-cancer levels after 10 years, but QOL remained significantly lower. At more than 10 years post-diagnosis, physical function was 2.379 points lower than pre-cancer levels (p < 0.01) while mental health was 1.922 points lower (p < 0.01). All pre-cancer predictors were associated with all outcomes. Pain predicted uniquely greater decreases in physical function post-diagnosis.

CONCLUSIONS: Depressive symptoms increased and QOL decreased following breast cancer diagnosis compared with pre-cancer levels, particularly in the first year.

IMPLICATIONS FOR CANCER SURVIVORS: QOL may remain lower for years after breast cancer diagnosis, although decreases are small.


Breast cancer, Depression, Distress, Health-related quality of life, Neoplasm, Women’s health

DOI of Published Version



J Cancer Surviv. 2015 Dec;9(4):620-9. doi: 10.1007/s11764-015-0438-y. Epub 2015 Feb 24. Link to article on publisher's site

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of cancer survivorship : research and practice

PubMed ID