Susan G Komen  
I've Been Diagnosed With Breast Cancer Someone I Know Was Diagnosed Share Your Story Join Us And Stay Informed Donate To End Breast Cancer
Home > Understanding Breast Cancer > Treatment > Importance of Following Your Breast Cancer Treatment Plan


Importance of Following Your Breast Cancer Treatment Plan

The importance of adherence (compliance)

Breast cancer treatment is most effective when all parts of the treatment plan are followed. Adherence (also called compliance) is how closely people follow the treatment plan (for medications and other therapies) prescribed by their health care providers in terms of:

  • Timing
  • Dose
  • Frequency

Following your treatment plan

Adherence may be difficult for many reasons. For example, when [157]:

  • You are prescribed (or recommended) to take medications over a long time
  • You are prescribed (or recommended) to go to treatments over a long time (especially if you must travel a far distance)
  • You have side effects from treatment

This may happen with many breast cancer treatments including chemotherapy, hormone therapy and radiation therapy. Even though it may be hard, it is vital to follow your treatment plan. Medications, such as oral chemotherapy and hormone therapy (tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors), only work if you take them correctly (as prescribed). And, radiation therapy is most effective when you finish the entire course.  

Learn about getting good care (quality of care).  

Talking to health care providers about adherence

It is important to be honest with your health care provider about whether or not you are taking your medication as prescribed. If your provider believes you are taking all of your medication, and you are not, this can cause problems. For example, if a medication does not appear to be working, your provider may think this is due to the medication itself (when it may be due to a lack of adherence). So, your provider may decide to try a different type of treatment when in fact a change was not needed.  

If you are suffering from side effects, tell your provider right away. He/she may be able to help. Having fewer side effects can help you complete your treatment plan.

Getting help with practical problems

You may have practical issues completing your treatment, such as getting to and from treatment (and travel costs), child care during treatment and medication costs. Your health care provider may be able to offer ways to help solve these problems. Hospital discharge planners, patient relation offices, patient service offices, social workers and patient navigators at hospitals or managed care organizations may be helpful too.  

Learn more about transportation and lodging assistance.

Learn more about financial assistance for prescription drugs and other treatment costs.  

Completing radiation therapy after lumpectomy

Radiation therapy after lumpectomy lowers the risk of breast cancer recurrence and increases the chances of survival [12]. In most cases, it is needed after lumpectomy.  

Radiation therapy for early breast cancer usually involves treatment five days a week for five to seven weeks. Getting to and from the treatment center this many times can be hard, especially if you live far away. If you need a ride to and from treatment, there are resources to help. Family and friends often want to help, but do not know how. This is a way they may be helpful to you. And, some organizations offer programs to assist with transportation. Others offer lodging if you need a place to stay overnight so that you can get treatment.  

Don’t hesitate to ask for help from your co-survivors or contact organizations that offer help with transportation or lodging. What is important is to complete your radiation therapy.  

Learn more about radiation therapy.  

Completing oral chemotherapy

Side effects are one reason people have trouble completing chemotherapy [24]. Although most side effects go away shortly after chemotherapy ends, preventing or treating symptoms can help you complete your course of chemotherapy. You should never feel you have to endure side effects, such as nausea, without any support. Talk to your health care provider about any side effects you are having. He/she may be able to prescribe medications to treat your side effects or change your treatment plan to reduce them.  

Learn more about the side effects of chemotherapy.

If you have trouble remembering to take oral chemotherapy or medications to treat side effects, a daily pillbox or setting an alarm on your watch or phone may help [3].  

Learn more about chemotherapy.

Learn about financial assistance for chemotherapy drugs.  

Completing hormone therapy (tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors)

Hormone therapy with tamoxifen and/or aromatase inhibitors used to treat breast cancer is typically prescribed for at least five years. The length of treatment coupled with side effects can make adherence to hormone therapy difficult.  

Although the menopausal symptoms related to hormone therapy can be hard to deal with, there are treatments that may ease these side effects. If you have side effects with hormone therapy, talk to your health care provider about ways to treat them.  

To get the most benefit, you need to take the full course of hormone therapy. Women who complete the full treatment course have higher rates of survival [63].  

If you have trouble remembering to take your hormone therapy, a daily pillbox or setting an alarm on your watch or phone may help [3]. However, you do not need to panic if you miss a day or two. 

Learn more about hormone therapy.

Learn about financial assistance for hormone therapy drugs.

Updated 04/27/13


Unique Issues for Young Women with Breast Cancer 

Quality of Life Issues