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The research, covering a seven-year period, included more than 1,000 women, aged 65 to 91, across the United States who had estrogen-positive breast cancer that had not spread. The researchers looked at the patients' use of either an aromatase inhibitor or tamoxifen, both of which are drugs that prevent tumors from using estrogen to grow.
Although 51 percent of the patients who started taking the drugs discontinued use before they completed the recommended five years of treatment, only 14 percent of the women refused to take the drugs at all, the researchers found.
Those most likely to decide against taking the drugs included frail, older and non-white patients, and those with more advanced cancer, according to the study published online June 16 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
"Women 65 years of age and older comprise about half of patients with breast cancer, but some studies have suggested this group initiates therapy less often and discontinues treatment more frequently than younger or middle aged women," lead author Vanessa Sheppard, assistant director of health disparities research at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a Georgetown University Medical Center news release.
However, she added, this study provides a "more positive picture."
"This is reassuring, as it's important for women to give themselves a chance for the best outcome possible, regardless of their age," Sheppard said.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Georgetown University Medical Center, news release, June 16, 2014
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