A new study has found that breast cancer patients who don’t feel comfortable talking to their doctors and admit to having more side-effects from their hormone therapy drugs are likely to miss a dose, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Breast cancer patients are given daily tables of “endocrine” therapy which prevent hormones from allowing the tumor to spread. It’s an especially important that patients take these meds in the early stages of the disease. But a lot of women don’t stick with the tablets long term.
Gretchen Kimmick, lead author and field expert from Duke University’s Medical Center (Durham, North Carolina), the cancer department, gave a statement saying that she and her colleagues “were surprised that so many women admitted to nonadherent medication-taking behaviors”.
She went on to add that women have a lot of reasons for deciding not to take their meds. However, the most common one “is probably because they notice side effects”. The problem with these tablets is that they can cause nausea, headaches and hot flashes, making patients feel even worse.
For their study, the research team looked at 112 postmenopausal women. They all had hormone receptor positive breast cancer in an early stage and underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. They were also taking tamoxifen or some other endocrine therapy medication at the time of the study.
The subjects had to answer questions relating to their general levels of pain, fatigue, night sweats, hot flashes as well as nerve pain. But they also had to provide information on how comfortable they feel talking to their doctor, how confident they are that they can take the meds as prescribed, what their impression of hormone therapy was, and what their medication behavior was.
Subjects varied as answers ranged from “never” forgetting or intentionally skipping a dose to “very often” forgetting or choosing not to take a dose, and everything in between. Questions had the same range of answers when subjects had to talk about how often they stopped taking their meds or reduced their doses after starting to feel better or starting to feel worse.
The subjects had been receiving meds for an average of three (3) years. Over half of them reported that they unintentionally missed some doses of endocrine therapy tablets due to being away from home, having a very busy day, or encountering problems getting refills.
A third of the subjects reported that they intentionally modified or skipped some doses. The most often encountered reason was that they felt worse or had ugly side-effects after taking the meds, however some of them admitted that the high cost of the meds was also an issue.
The breast cancer patients most likely to miss doses were the ones who did not feel comfortable talking to their doctors and the ones who were not very confident in their ability to take the meds.
Health experts warn that failing to take endocrine therapy tablets can raise the risk of cancer recurrence, the risk of death, as well as damage life quality and lead to higher health service costs.
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