Getting the best treatment is what all women diagnosed with breast cancer want. Excellent care requires an informed and experienced medical team that can choose the best treatment plan for each woman's unique situation. Two studies suggest that this doesn't always happen.
In one study, researchers found that obese women or women with little education who had been diagnosed with breast cancer were nearly twice as likely to receive a lower-than-recommended dose of chemotherapy. If you get a chemotherapy dose that's lower than you need, it can affect how well the breast cancer responds. A low dose also can affect the risk of the breast cancer coming back after treatment (recurrence). Similar results were found in research published in 2005.
Some doctors worry about possible risks associated with giving a high dose of chemotherapy calculated using an obese woman's weight. Others worry about giving a high dose of chemotherapy to obese women who have other medical problems. It's with good intentions that these doctors may decide to decrease the dose of chemotherapy. But research has shown that obese women who receive the correct dose of chemotherapy based on their weight and height don't experience any extra problems from the treatment. It's harder to explain why women with little education are more likely to receive lower doses of chemotherapy for breast cancer. The researchers don't really give any explanation.
No matter what you weigh or how much education you have, getting the full dose of chemotherapy for your height and weight is important. If chemotherapy is recommended for you, ask your doctor about how your chemotherapy doses will be chosen. This is a chance for you to tell your doctor that you are committed to getting the most effective chemotherapy for you.
Choosing the right treatment plan for you starts with choosing the right treatment team. The second research study reviewed here found that women who carefully chose their breast cancer doctors were more likely to have a more experienced treatment team.
Making a decision about your treatment team is a decision about the rest of your life. Do your homework. Credentials and experience matter. Consistent recommendations from other people, both health care professionals and friends, are also important. But even the smartest and most experienced doctor can't give you excellent care unless you communicate well with the people on your treatment team.
You deserve excellent care. But you also have to be an active and effective voice in your care. Don't leave it to chance and don't be silent if you have a question. Together, you and your doctors can find the best treatment for you.