After a breast cancer diagnosis, you and your doctors will put together a treatment plan specific to your unique situation. Many women diagnosed with breast cancer feel a sense of urgency about jumping right in and starting treatment very soon after diagnosis. Still, for a number of reasons, including cost, other women may put off treatment for 2 months or longer.
A study has found that women diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer who wait more than 60 days to start treatment have a much higher risk of dying from breast cancer than women who start treatment earlier.
The study was published online on Nov. 19, 2012 by the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Read the abstract of “Effect on Survival of Longer Intervals Between Confirmed Diagnosis and Treatment Initiation Among Low-Income Women With Breast Cancer.”
Researchers from Ohio State University looked at more than 1,780 women in the North Carolina Medicaid system who were diagnosed with breast cancer from 2000 to 2002. The researchers had follow-up information on the women through July 2006.
Half of the women started treatment 22 days after their diagnoses and half the women waited longer than 22 days to start treatment:
- 66% of the women started treatment within 30 days of diagnosis
- 90% of the women started treatment within 60 days of diagnosis
There was no difference in survival rates between women who started treatment by 30 days and women who started treatment by 60 days.
But 10% percent of the women in the study waited longer than 60 days after diagnosis to start treatment. Women who waited this long and were diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer had an 85% higher risk of dying from breast cancer and a 66% higher risk of dying from any cause compared to similar women who started treatment sooner.
The researchers said that these women, whether because of cost or location, had a hard time getting access to care. They recommended that new programs to improve access to breast cancer care focus on people diagnosed with advanced-stage disease.
If you’ve been diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer, you do have some time to do research to make sure your diagnosis is correct and your treatment plan makes sense. Still, based on the results of this study, you need to make sure you start treatment about 2 months after your diagnosis.
There is only one of you, and you deserve the best care possible. Don’t let any obstacles get in the way of your treatment!
If you don’t have insurance or are unemployed, paying for treatment may seem overwhelming. Don’t panic and don’t skip treatments or doctor’s visits. There are resources available to help you.
Someone at your doctor’s office may be able to give you a list of organizations that offer financial assistance for breast cancer medicines and care, as well as local organizations that offer financial assistance for your practical needs such as transportation, food, and child care. Many pharmaceutical companies have set up special funds to help pay for the cost of their medicines.
Also, many hospitals now include patient navigators as part of the breast cancer care team. A patient navigator can help you understand and move through the health care and insurance systems. Patient navigators also can help overcome language and cultural barriers, as well as any biases based on culture, race, or age. Ask your doctor or nurse for a patient navigator recommendation.
For more information on financial help for people with and without insurance, including tips to lower medicine costs, visit the Paying for Your Care pages in the Breastcancer.org Day-to-Day Matters section.