According to an article recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, disabled women who are diagnosed with early breast cancer are less likely to receive optimal breast-conserving therapy than women who are not disabled.

Early breast cancer refers to cancer that has not spread from the breast or axillary (under the arm) lymph nodes. Many women with early breast cancer choose to undergo breast-conserving therapy, which includes the removal of the cancer and surrounding tissues and evaluation of axillary lymph nodes, followed by radiation therapy. Some patients may also undergo chemotherapy and/or hormone therapy.

Some patients do not receive optimal breast-conserving therapy because of other existing medical conditions, lack of health insurance, or age. Researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center recently analyzed data regarding the effects of disabilities on treatment delivered among women with early breast cancer. The study used information from 11 databases from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) and included over 100,300 women with early breast cancer. Within this database the researchers identified women who qualified for Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicare. Treatment was then compared among disabled and non-disabled women.

  • Disabled women were 20% less likely to receive radiation therapy or lymph node evaluation.
  • Disabled women had a 30% increased risk of death from breast cancer.

The researchers concluded that it appears that disabilities may make it difficult for physicians to provide optimal treatment choices for women with early breast cancer. A more thorough explanation for differences in treatment has not been found. As well, the authors stated that the differences in treatment did not explain the differences in mortality from breast cancer.

Women with disabilities who are diagnosed with early breast cancer may wish to speak with their physician about their individual risks and benefits of all treatment options.

Reference: Mc Carthy E, Ngo L, Roetzheim R, et al. Disparities in breast cancer treatment and survival in women with disabilities. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2006;134:637-645.

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