Breast Cancer Survivors Call For More Care

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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As the nation’s growing population of breast cancer survivors ages, many patients will likely develop common chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, and they’ll need specialized care to balance those problems with the late effects of cancer therapies they received. They’ll also need screenings and advice about new strategies for preventing recurrences of their disease.

But many patients give low marks to the post-cancer care they receive from their primary care physicians, who generally serve as a patient’s main health care provider after they’re released from active treatment with their oncologists, according to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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“Getting primary care physicians involved in a comprehensive survivorship care plan is critical to delivering high quality, accessible care to diverse groups of cancer survivors,” says Jun J. Mao, MD, MSCE, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of Family Medicine and Community Health who leads integrative medicine efforts at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center. “Currently, however, lack of communication between oncologists and primary care physicians is felt by survivors to be a major limitation of our existing system, so treatment summaries or survivorship plans may serve as important tools to bridge the communication gap and improve care delivery by primary care physicians.”

In a study of 300 breast cancer survivors cared for at the Abramson Cancer Center’s Rowan Breast Center, the Penn researchers found that patients offered mixed reviews of the survivorship care they received from their primary care physicians. While most patients said they were happy with the general care, psychosocial support and health promotion information they received, they reported being less satisfied by their physicians’ knowledge of late effects of cancer therapies and ways to treat symptoms related to their disease or its treatment. Only 28 percent of patients felt that their primary care physicians and oncologists communicated well together – a partnership that the Penn researchers say will be a key way to create survivorship plans in the future.

Most patients surveyed felt that educational interventions to strengthen survivorship care in the primary care setting would be valuable, with 72 percent saying they felt it was important to teach themselves in order to create a cohesive care plan with both types of doctors. Seventy percent of patients endorsed the idea of developing a primary care clinic specifically for breast cancer survivors – a group that is two million strong, the largest group of all cancer survivors in the United States.

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