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Home > Understanding Breast Cancer > Treatment > Importance of Following Your Breast Cancer Treatment Plan

  


Importance of Following Your Breast Cancer Treatment Plan

 

Breast cancer treatment is most effective when all parts of the treatment plan are followed. So, it is important to follow your treatment plan (for medications and other therapies) prescribed by your health care provider in terms of:

  • Timing
  • Dose
  • Frequency

Following your treatment plan

Sometimes completing breast cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy and radiation therapy may be difficult. For example, when [142]:

  • 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

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 or elder 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.  

Prescription drug assistance

Prescription drug costs can quickly become a financial burden for you and your family. Medicare and many insurance providers offer prescription drug plans. One may already be included in your policy or you may be able to buy an extra plan for prescriptions.  

Some drugs are off-patent and a generic form may be available. Generic drugs are cheaper than the name brands, but are just as effective. You may also qualify for assistance from programs that help with drug costs or offer low-cost or free prescriptions.  

Learn more about insurance plans and prescription drug assistance programs.

Completing radiation therapy after lumpectomy

Radiation therapy after lumpectomy lowers the risk of breast cancer recurrence and increases the chances of survival [4,13]. In most cases, it is recommended after lumpectomy.  

Radiation therapy for early breast cancer usually involves treatment five days a week for three to seven weeks. Getting to and from the treatment center this many times can be hard, especially if you live far away or, if children or elderly family members rely on you to take care of them. If you need a ride to and from treatment or help with child care or elder care, there are often resources that can help. Family and friends often want to help, but do not know how. These are ways they can help you. Some organizations offer programs to assist with transportation or costs related to transportation, child care and elder care. 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, lodging, child care or elder care. It is very important to complete your radiation therapy without gaps or delays.  

Learn more about radiation therapy.

Completing oral chemotherapy

Side effects are one reason people have trouble completing oral chemotherapy [25]. 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. 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 mobile device (you may be able to download a mobile app) may help [3].  

Learn more about chemotherapy.

Learn about financial assistance for chemotherapy drugs.    

 Susan G. Komen® position on fairness in oral chemotherapy drug coverage  

While intravenously (IV) chemotherapy is a well-known part of cancer treatment, an increasing number of chemotherapy drugs today can be taken by mouth (oral). Insurance policies have not kept pace with these advances in chemotherapy. As a result, people often find themselves facing high out-of-pocket costs when filling their prescriptions for oral chemotherapy (sometimes costing thousands of dollars per month). This disparity exists because IV chemotherapy is usually covered under a health insurance plan’s medical benefit, whereas oral chemotherapy is usually covered under a plan’s prescription drug benefit.  

High prescription drug costs are a barrier to care. High costs can prevent people from getting the medications prescribed by their health care providers. No one should be forced to get less appropriate treatment simply because an insurer provides more coverage for IV chemotherapy than oral chemotherapy.  

Komen supports efforts at the state and federal level to require insurers to provide equal (or better) coverage for oral chemotherapy as they provide for IV chemotherapy to ensure people have access to affordable, appropriate treatment for their cancer.

 

Completing intravenous (IV) chemotherapy

If you have transportation, child care or elder care issues that make getting to IV chemotherapy treatments difficult, there may be resources that can help. Getting to and from the treatment can be hard, especially if you live far away. If you need a ride to and from treatment or have child care or elder care needs, there are resources to help. Family and friends often want to help, but do not know how. These are ways they may be helpful to you. And, some organizations offer programs to assist with transportation, child care and elder care costs. 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, lodging, child care or elder care. Find a list of resources.

Completing hormone therapy (tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors)

Hormone therapy with tamoxifen and/or aromatase inhibitors is typically prescribed for at least five years (up to 10 years of treatment). The length of treatment coupled with side effects can make it difficult to complete hormone therapy.

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, talk to your health care provider about ways to treat them.

To get the most benefit out of hormone therapy, you need to take the full course of treatment. Women who complete the full course have higher rates of survival [59].

If you have trouble remembering to take your hormone therapy, a daily pillbox or setting an alarm on your watch or mobile device (you may be able to download a mobile app) 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 04/29/14

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