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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Abstract: Breast cancer survival therapy

Many women undergoing antiestrogen therapy (AET) really dislike pink, CSON Assistant Professor Jane Flanagan and colleagues from Massachusetts General Hospital found when they conducted focus group interviews with 21 women in AET treatment for breast cancer. “I do not see myself as a victim, and I really hate … the pink ribbons, the bracelets, the walks, the fund-raisers” during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, one participant told Flanagan and her colleagues, whose research appeared in the January issue of Oncology Nursing Forum.

A long-term regimen for breast cancer patients who have been successfully treated for the disease, AET has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. But for the drug to be successful, “women must adhere to treatment for five to 10 years, often despite distressing side effects, and during which time less contact is made with the health care team,” the authors observe. AET, they point out, “is widely known to cause distressing symptoms that affect daily living, including arthralgias, hot flashes, fatigue, weight gain, decreased libido, and changes in mood and memory.” Often, the symptoms are unpleasant enough that women discontinue treatment.

The researchers’ interviews with 21 women aged 39 to 73 revealed that women shared concerns about “being more than my disease,” getting old before their time, dependence, vulnerability, and “saving face and braving storms for others.”

Flanagan and her colleagues concluded that oncology nurses should be sensitive to women’s concerns about long-term therapy and that health care providers should better “understand women’s perceptions of AET and its effects as a first step in the process of developing interventions to improve care.”