Fewer than half of breast cancer patients adhere to hormonal therapy regimen, study finds

Jun 28, 2010

A new study of nearly 8,800 women with early-stage breast cancer found that fewer than half - approximately 49 percent - completed their full regimen of hormone therapy according to the prescribed schedule. Investigators found that younger women were particularly likely to discontinue treatment. The findings underscore the need to both better understand the reasons behind such treatment non-compliance and also develop interventions to reduce it.

"We were surprised to see that so many young women stopped treatment early, despite the fact that the therapy has a proven track record of reducing breast cancer recurrence," said Dawn Hershman, MD, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, who led the study. "Perhaps we need to do a better job of making patients aware that to get the full benefit of treatment, they need to take their medications on time and for the full duration."

While up to five years of oral (such as tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors) for hormone-sensitive breast cancers is frequently prescribed to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and death, some previous small studies indicated that only approximately 40 to 60 percent of women finish their recommended course of therapy. In order to provide a more comprehensive perspective, Dr. Hershman and her colleagues examined automated pharmacy records of 8,769 women diagnosed with stage I, II or III, hormone-sensitive between 1996 and 2007. They used the records to identify hormonal therapy prescriptions and refill dates. Each woman filled at least one prescription for hormonal therapy within one year of diagnosis. Women used (43 percent), aromatase inhibitors (26 percent) or both (30 percent).

The researchers found that women under age 40 had the highest risk of discontinuing therapy early. By 4.5 years, 32 percent of all patients in the study had stopped taking their hormone therapy, and of those who did not stop, only 72 percent finished on schedule (meaning they took their medication more than 80 percent of the time).

They found that in women younger than 40 and older than 75, those who had lumpectomy as opposed to mastectomy and those with other medical illnesses were more likely to discontinue hormonal therapy early. Asian/Pacific Islander ethnicity, a history of prior chemotherapy, being married and longer prescription refill intervals were associated with completing 4.5 years of hormonal therapy. Longer refill intervals meant fewer chances to not refill prescriptions.

"Physicians are often unaware of patient compliance, and this is becoming an increasingly important issue in cancer," Dr. Hershman said. "It's very disturbing that patients under 40 had the highest discontinuation and non-adherence rates, because those patients have the longest life expectancy. If we can better understand the issues surrounding compliance with hormonal therapy, this might help us understand why patients don't adhere to other treatments that are moving out of the clinic and into the home, such as oral chemotherapy, as often as we would like."

She added that there are several possible reasons for halting therapy early, noting that 13 percent of the women delayed getting their first prescription refilled. These factors can include the side effects of the therapy, such as joint pain, hot flashes or fatigue, a lack of understanding of the benefit of the therapy, and high costs of medications and/or insurance co-payments.

Jennifer Obel, MD, member of ASCO's Cancer Communications Committee, said: "This new study reaffirms some worrisome trends for completing , and brings up the larger issue of non-compliance for cancer therapies in general. As we increasingly move treatments out of the clinic and into the home - we now have more than 50 oral chemotherapy medications - compliance has become a significant problem that hasn't been addressed very well. Patients tend to underestimate side effects and under-report events that happen between clinic visits. We need to identify reasons why patients don't take their drugs before we can find ways to reverse this trend."

Explore further: Chronic inflammation linked to 'high-grade' prostate cancer

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Adding radiation decreases breast cancer recurrence

Jan 22, 2007

Radiotherapy after breast conserving surgery for breast cancer reduces recurrence and prevents development of additional breast tumors in older women with early stage breast disease, according to a new study. Published in ...

Recommended for you

Unraveling the 'black ribbon' around lung cancer

Apr 17, 2014

It's not uncommon these days to find a colored ribbon representing a disease. A pink ribbon is well known to signify breast cancer. But what color ribbon does one think of with lung cancer?

User comments : 0

More news stories

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Study says we're over the hill at 24

(Medical Xpress)—It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.