Survivors Take More Pills

Breast cancer survivors take more prescription and OTC medications than their peers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Women who have been through the breast cancer journey usually take some form of medication to keep the disease from returning. Are they taking more pills than women who've never had cancer?

According to a new study, breast cancer survivors take more prescription medications, over the counter medicines and supplements than do their middle-aged peers who haven’t had the disease.

This diversity of medicines should be managed by a pharmacist to reduce potentially harmful drug interactions.

"Tell your pharmacist all the medicines and supplements you’re taking."

Julie Otte, PhD, RN, OCN, assistant professor of adult health at the Indiana University School of Medicine, led the study that included researchers from Indiana University, the University of Wisconsin and Purdue University.

Study participants included 98 breast cancer survivors and 138 mid-life women with no history of breast cancer.

The women received and completed a questionnaire about the medicines they took on a regular basis.

“Breast cancer survivors are taking a vast array of medications during survivorship,” the authors wrote.

The difference between survivors’ medications and those of similarly aged women was noticeable:

  • On average, survivors took 2.71 prescription medications compared to the 1.94 prescriptions taken by mid-life women.
  • 32.7 percent of survivors took medications to block estrogen.
  • Survivors took an average 6 different classes of medications while the other women took an average 4.66 different classes.
  • Survivors took an average 3.29 over-the-counter (OTC) medications versus an average of 2.72 OTC medications taken by the women without a history of cancer.
  • 66.3 percent of survivors took vitamin supplements versus 55.1 percent of mid-life women.

What wasn’t clear from this study was how these medicines were being managed.

Registered pharmacist Jason Poquette, BPharm, RPh, told dailyRx News, “The cited study clearly demonstrates this population as more likely to be on multiple medications than females of similar age who have not been treated for breast cancer. This isn’t necessarily surprising, but the data does suggest there is an opportunity to focus specifically on the needs of this group to ensure the medications being used are effective and screened for potential drug-drug interactions,” said Poquette, who is founder and CEO of Blackstone Valley Pharmacy Services in central Massachusetts.

“Pharmacists particularly can become involved, as the medications might be prescribed by several specialty physicians, and the pharmacy has the unique opportunity to screen for interactions and interact with the patient about side effects,” said Poquette.

This study was published in the July edition of Supportive Care in Cancer.

The research was supported by the National Cancer Institute, the National Center for Research Resources, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and the Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 7, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013