One in ten women over the age of 65 will develop breast cancer. Despite this high incidence of breast cancer among older women, social support for them is often inadequate. This paper describes a qualitative study of the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis on older women from racially/ethnically diverse populations and their subsequent need for social support.
Forty-seven older African American, Asian American, Caucasian and Latina women between the ages of 65 to 83 participated in a larger study examining the impact of breast cancer on women from racially/ethnically diverse populations and the meaning and nature of social support. The women completed an in-depth qualitative interview on the psychosocial impact of breast cancer and the meaning and nature of social support.
The results indicate that there are variations in reactions to a breast cancer diagnosis among older women, and that these reactions impact their experiences with seeking social support at diagnosis and during treatment. Respondents were concerned about their aging bodies, potential dependency on others, and loss of autonomy. At the same time, the severity of cancer treatment and existing co-morbidities often meant they needed to learn to receive support, and to reach out if they had no support. The implications of these findings underscore the older cancer patient’s need to strengthen her supportive networks at the time of diagnosis, during treatment, and post-treatment.