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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Michigan Study Finds Nearly Half of Women with Breast Cancer Experience Severe Side Effects

Almost 50 percent of women receiving breast cancer treatment reported at least one severe or very severe side effect, according to a new study led by University of Michigan researchers in collaboration with USC, Emory and Stanford Universities. The study was published in the journal Cancer.

[Photo: Dr. Steven J. Katz]

These side effects led to additional doctor’s appointments, emergency department visits, delays in treatment and reduced medication dosages. In addition, while side effects are common with chemotherapy, about one third of the women who didn’t undergo chemotherapy still experienced severe side effects.

“It’s in patients’ best interest to receive their treatments on time and on schedule, whenever possible, to give them the best possible outcome,” says Dr. Steven J. Katz, study author and professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and professor of medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. “Unscheduled care for toxicities—including clinic visits, emergency department visits and hospital stays—are expensive, inconvenient and disruptive to both doctors and patients. We need to avoid them whenever possible.”

Researchers looked at a group of nearly 2,000 women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. The women were asked to rate the severity of several common breast cancer treatment side effects:

Ninety-three percent of respondents said they experienced at least one of the side effects, and 45 percent rated it as severe or very severe. Researchers found that some women were more likely to experience severe side effects than others:

Researchers also asked the women what type of help they sought for their side effects. Most said they asked for help during routine doctor’s appointments. Nine percent scheduled an additional appointment to discuss side effects, and 5 percent went to the emergency department or a hospital.

Typically, cancer treatment side effects are reported via clinical trials or cancer registries. Few studies have sought input directly from a group of patients.

The researchers say it’s important for oncologists to share information about potential side effects with patients. By making patients aware, they can prepare what to do if nausea, constipation, pain or other side effects occur. In addition, better data on the severity of side effects should be collected and shared with patients to help with their decision-making regarding treatment

The researchers are developing tools to help women understand how side effects vary by treatment. Additional studies are examining how side effects differ across diverse chemotherapy practices, as well as the optimal way to manage side effects.