Breast Health: Breast Cancer Treatment Hard to Complete for Some

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Podcast: Breast Health September 2010

Welcome to this month’s Breast Health podcast. Our topic is “Breast Cancer Therapy Hard to Complete for Some.”

Fewer than half of women with early-stage breast cancer complete their full prescribed course of hormone treatment, says a new study.
This can put women at risk for their cancer returning.
Women stop hormone therapy early for many reasons, including such side effects as joint pain, hot flashes and fatigue.
Reasons for stopping also may include being unaware of benefits of the therapy and the high cost of medications and insurance co-payments.
The findings were reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Study lead author Dr. Dawn Hershman says doctors are often unaware that patients stop taking their medications.
She says this is becoming a very important issue in cancer care.
In the study, researchers looked at the pharmacy records of almost 8,800 women diagnosed with stage 1, 2, or 3 hormone-sensitive breast cancer.
Each woman filled at least one prescription for hormone therapy within a year of breast cancer diagnosis.
The women used tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors, or both.
The study shows about 49 percent of the women finished their full prescribed regimen of hormone therapy.
However, after nearly five years, 32 percent of the women had stopped taking their hormone therapy.
Those most likely to stop hormone therapy early were found to be women younger than age 40.
Dr. Hershman notes other studies show that the hormonal therapy for hormone-sensitive breast cancer is key in reducing recurrence and death.
She says it worries her that patients under 40 were less likely to finish treatment because they have the longest life expectancy.
Doctors need to better understand the issues about finishing therapy, explains Dr. Hershman, especially as new treatments are moving out of the clinic setting and into the home, such as oral chemotherapy.
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