Living with the dilemma of the treatment for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-positive breast cancer and the risk of incident heart disease: A qualitative investigation of patients' experiences

Camilla Sødequist*, Susanne S. Pedersen, Ann Bøcher Secher Banke, Nina Rottmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Objective: Herceptin treatment improves survival and reduces the risk of recurrence in human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-positive breast cancer. Yet, it increases women's risk of developing burdensome cardiovascular complications. This study examines how women experience living with HER2-positive breast cancer and the risk of incident heart disease. Methods: Danish women with breast cancer (n = 12; aged 32–75) participated in semi-structured interviews. Themes were deducted using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). Results: Women described breast cancer as having strong associations with death, whereas heart disease to them meant decreased physical functioning or “something fixable.” MUGA scans of the heart during the treatment course made them feel safe, and generally, they did not worry about risk of heart disease. Coping strategies included the following: focus on the good aspects of herceptin and acceptance of risk of heart disease as the price to pay to survive. The two most predominant coping strategies used were information and avoidance. Conclusion: The women's focus on cancer as the primary disease seems partly to be the result of a complex coping process, by which they dealt with the dilemma of weighing risks, where the risk of dying from breast cancer was perceived as the biggest risk.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13224
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer Care
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2020



  • breast cancer
  • herceptin treatment
  • illness representations
  • living with cancer
  • qualitative interviews
  • women

Cite this