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Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Now, a Model Patient: Partnering with your doctor

Velda Model had had surgery—twice—to remove a tumor from her breast. Then she endured chemotherapy that made her fingers and toes numb, and radiation that made her tired all the time. She was given Aromasin pills to prevent the cancer from coming back, but they made her body ache, and her heart race. So she stopped taking them, saying “I can’t live like this.” Her cancer doctor (an oncologist) eventually convinced her that the hormone’s benefits outweighed the discomfort.

Now she contacts the doctor’s office when she experiences severe side effects, allowing the doctor to discuss alternatives. She has been able to reduce the flu-like symptoms of the hormone treatment by taking the pills after dinner rather than before dinner.

That partnership between the patient and physician is our goal. In her case, that’s especially important, because women with hormone-responsive early breast cancer who do not take five years of hormone therapy pills increase their risk of recurrence by 50%.

Advice to patients with side effects from drugs: Tell your doctor, and explore alternatives with him or her.

Read Sunday’s Boston Globe article by Scott Allen, or the full study by my buddy Dr. Saul Weingart et al in the British Medical Journal.

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