Staying on Track With Hormonal Therapy

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Taking hormonal therapy medicines to treat hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer is a long-term commitment. You'll most likely take hormonal therapy for 5 or 10 years to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

You'll get the best results from treatment when you follow your personal treatment plan completely and on schedule. Doctors call this "full compliance." Staying on track with hormonal therapy can be a challenge, especially after the first few months.

Below are some common problems with sticking to your hormonal therapy treatment plan and ways to over them. You can learn more in the Breastcancer.org Staying on Track With Treatment section.

Forgetting to take your hormonal therapy medicine

  • As you get back into your daily life after surgery and other treatments, you may sometimes forget to take your hormonal therapy pill.
  • Once you start feeling healthy again, you may want to be done with any reminders of breast cancer.
  • As time goes by, you'll probably have fewer doctor visits and so fewer reminders about your treatment plan.
  • If you're taking other medicines in addition to hormonal therapy, it can be hard to keep track of all of them.

To stay on track with taking your hormonal therapy medicine, you may need to use more than just your memory. Research has shown that when women undergoing treatment for breast cancer reported how well they stuck with their treatment plan, many of them followed the plan a lot less than they though they did. Here are some tips to help you remember to take your hormonal therapy medicine:

  • Ask for a written copy of your treatment plan. The plan should describe the size, shape, and color of the pill; how often you take the pill; and how to take the pill (chew, swallow with water, take with food, etc.). Ask your doctor to write out what you should do if you miss a dose.
  • Keep a medicine diary. Use a calendar or notebook to keep track of which medicines you take each day and the time of day you should take each one.
  • Try to take your medicine at the same time each day. If you can link taking your medicine to something you do every day -- eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, getting ready for bed -- you're more likely to remember to take it.
  • Use the alarm feature in your computer, watch, or cell phone as a reminder. If you regularly use any of these electronic devices, set an alarm to tell you when it's time to take your pill.
  • Plan ahead if you'll be away from home. Take along more pills than you'll need in the original container and bring your medicine diary. If you're traveling by airplane, put your medicine in your carry-on bag or purse in case your luggage gets lost. If you'll be traveling for more than a couple weeks, talk to your doctor about getting an extra prescription to take with you, just in case. If you're traveling outside your country, you also may want to ask your insurance company about how you can get your prescription filled at your destination, again, just in case.

Feeling depressed or unmotivated

The way you feel about breast cancer, your treatment, and the effort it will take you to get better can affect how well you follow your treatment plan. If you're feeling depressed or don't see how your medicine is helping you, or think that it's not worth the trouble to take every day, you may not be motivated to remember to take your pill daily. On the other hand, you may feel so good that you think you should be done with treatment a long before your 5 or 10 years of hormonal therapy are up.

Here are some tips to help you stay motivated to stick with your hormonal therapy plan for the full 5 or 10 years:

  • Think of breast cancer as a chronic condition. Chronic conditions -- diabetes, high blood pressure, or asthma for example -- have to be kept under control over time. A person with diabetes who keeps the disease under control with insulin may seem like the healthiest person you know. But it's because he or she is very diligent about managing the disease. It might help motivate you to take your hormonal therapy medicine every day if you think of breast cancer the same way.
  • If you're not sure exactly why you're taking hormonal therapy, ask your doctor. Your doctor may not explain how your medicine works in detail unless you ask. Knowing how the medicine works can help motivate you to stay on track.
  • Ask for help if you're emotionally distressed or depressed. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between depression and fatigue brought on by treatment. Tell your doctor how you feel and ask for help. A counselor who works with women affected by breast cancer can help.
  • Join a support group or ask to be matched with another survivor. It may be easier to stay on track with hormonal therapy if you can talk with other women who are also taking hormonal therapy. Your doctor or nurse may be able to refer you to a support group or match you with another breast cancer survivor. You can also visit the Breastcancer.org Discussion Boards and the live Chat Rooms. Here you’ll find a supportive community available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, where you can get information, advice, and encouragement.

Troubling side effects

Hormonal therapy medicines may cause some troubling side effects, including hot flashes, night sweats, and bone and joint pain. Less common but more serious side effects include heart problems, bone loss, and blood clots.

Don't let side effects stop you from getting the benefits of hormonal therapy. If you're experiencing side effects from one hormonal therapy medicine, talk to your doctor -- you may be able to take a different dose or different medicine.

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