After Breast Cancer, Many in Appalachia Say No to Lifesaving Drugs

After Breast Cancer, Many in Appalachia Say No to Lifesaving Drugs

After Breast Cancer, Many in Appalachia Say No to Lifesaving Drugs

Access to care, not insurance, is a key issue, researcher says

SOURCE: University of Virginia, news release, July 20, 2015

MONDAY, July 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- About one-third of breast cancer survivors in the Appalachian region of the United States do not take potentially lifesaving drugs, even though their drugs are covered by insurance, a new study finds.

The study included 428 breast cancer survivors in the Appalachian counties of Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. All of the women had Medicare Part D insurance that covers prescription medications.

About 30 percent of the women did not follow through with their prescribed adjuvant hormone therapy, which reduces the risk of cancer recurrence, the University of Virginia researchers discovered.

"Almost a third of the prescriptions for adjuvant hormone therapy were not filled, which is much, much higher compared to what we usually see in commercially insured populations," Rajesh Balkrishnan, of the department of public health sciences, said in a university news release.

"Usually it ranges from about 10 [percent] to 15 percent, so this is almost double that. A third of the women going without adjuvant hormone therapy -- that is a scary prospect," he added.

The study was published in the July issue of the journal Medicine.

Cancer is a leading cause of death in Appalachia, where access to health care can be a challenge. Women often have to drive many miles to get to the nearest cancer center or the pharmacy, Balkrishnan said.

He and his colleagues also found that the women in the study were more likely to stick with an older drug, tamoxifen, than with newer aromatase inhibitors.

"One, the diffusion of newer technologies is much slower in Appalachia. Also, the other issue that comes to the forefront is that many of these medications have pretty severe side effects," Balkrishnan said.

It's also likely that many patients are not counseled properly on how to manage the side effects of these medications and how to take medications in conjunction with other aspects of their lifestyles and daily living, he explained.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about breast cancer.

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