“This is a kind of betrayal”: A Qualitative Study of Disability after Breast Cancer

Roanne Leigh Thomas-MacLean, Anna Towers, Elizabeth Quinlan, Thomas Hack, Winkle Kwan, Baukje Miedema, Andrea Tilley, Paul Graham


Objective:  To document the impact of arm morbidity and disability among 40 Canadian women, who were 12-24 months post breast cancer surgery. 

Methods:  40 qualitative interviews were completed as one component of a national, multidisciplinary, longitudinal study of arm morbidity after breast cancer (n=725) involving four research sites (Fredericton/Saint John, Montreal, Winnipeg, Surrey).  During semi-structured interviews, participants, who reported arm morbidity and disability in earlier surveys, were asked to discuss the impact of these conditions on their everyday lives. 

Results:  The interviewees reported making major adjustments to paid and unpaid work, which often involved the assistance of family members, thus demonstrating the impact of disability.  Interview data resulted in the creation of a model which addresses arm morbidity and disability, as well as implications for health care professionals. 

Conclusions:  Based on the findings from our interviews, we assert that a robust measure of disability after breast cancer should be developed.  In the absence of a validated measure of the impact of disability, evaluating the qualitative responses to questions about everyday activities could provide the impetus for the provision of physical therapy and emotional support. 

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3747/co.v16i3.389

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ISSN: 1198-0052 (Print) ISSN: 1718-7729 (Online)